Upon completing his batting masterpiece, the second-longest fourth innings in the history of all Tests, Usman Khawaja declared it proof that he was as hard a worker as anyone, having fought perceptions of laziness and weakness in Asian conditions over the course of an Australian career that began in January 2011.
As Australia’s captain Tim Paine beamed alongside him, Khawaja stated that the emotion of his century celebration was about breaking down a significant barrier in terms of his record in Asia – where he had never previously passed 30 before a double of 85 and 141 in this match – and also those of many who had misjudged him. It was hard to escape the significance of Khawaja rising to an innings of undoubted greatness in his first Test with Justin Langer as coach, and also the first as the team’s senior-most batsman.
“Yeah there was definitely something there I reckon. It was mostly just about getting a hundred for Australia. In the last day of a match you’re trying to save a game,” Khawaja said. “A lot of work goes into playing cricket at the highest level, I’ve worked as hard as anyone, I’ve worked my backside off for the last 10 years of first-class cricket, day in, day out. People think because of my relaxed nature that’s not the case, that I’ve been gifted to be able to get to where I am, but it’s not the case at all.
“I’ve worked my absolute backside off for the last 10 years and really worked as hard as I can in different conditions like this and in England and other places. That sort of stuff goes … people overlook that sort of stuff and you don’t get to play at the highest level without putting in the hard yards. There’s no secret to success, it’s all about hard work. I’m just grateful to be out there playing for Australia and getting a hundred for Australia really.”
Speaking about the impact of Langer, Khawaja spoke warmly of the former Test batsman’s fondness for frank and detailed conversations about the game. “I think JL’s just fit in really well. It’s always hard for a new coach to come in. Boof [Darren Lehmann] was there for so long,” he said. “I think JL is an extremely good communicator. You know when he talks to you about cricket, he’s so passionate and he just wants the best for everyone.
“Whenever you talk to him about cricket you know it’s coming from a good place. You can chat to him about the game and you can express your opinions and he won’t take it to heart, and he does the same. It’s obviously only one Test match that’s happened so far but I think he instills a lot of belief in the guys as a team as a whole. And he’s been there and done it too obviously so you get a lot of reassurance from that.”
The key to Khawaja’s recent story has been a concerted effort to work on his fitness, dropping 7kg since the fateful South Africa tour and demonstrating his endurance across a match where he spent only a fraction of its five days off the field. “That first innings, batted 85 and that was as tough as any innings as I’ve played. I was drenched,” Khawaja said. “I came off the field with sweat through my shirt. My shirt was drenched and pants were drenched. That took it out of me a fair bit.
“That took it out of me, I’ve never had an innings like that. Just trying to bat really. I was feeling pretty good for most of it until we got to the second session with one hour left before tea, then I was withering. I was just asking for god to get the sun down so we could get some shade. We got in the change rooms and felt good again after I got in there and then it got a bit cooler. I just love batting and I was just enjoying batting out there and enjoying getting a few partnerships with the boys and playing cricket for Australia. It’s what you dream to do.
“Not yet [sunk in]. If it will, it hasn’t yet. I’m just more happy about being where we were. We were a chance to possibly even follow on at one stage and understandably they batted again, gave their bowlers a bit of a rest then came back out. To just bat that long of a period in Asia let alone… it’s a bit different than at the Gabba, it’s probably a nicer wicket on day five than out there. It’s a lot of credit to a lot of the guys, shows a lot of guts, shows a lot of courage to do something like that. Hopefully we can take that into the next game.”
For Paine, the experience could not have been more different to his first Test as captain, a hiding at the hands of South Africa in Johannesburg. “Probably not, not in these circumstances, coming where we came from our collapse on day three,” Paine said when asked whether he’d had a prouder moment in the game. “Just really proud of our whole group, how they stuck to their plans, kept digging in and extremely proud of Usman, one of the great Test innings.
“We always want to play good cricket there’s no doubt about that. I was just really proud of the way we stuck at it, we spoke pre-series about the need to really fight here and show real patience. That’s exactly the brand of cricket we want to play. We know that to become a good team we first have to be hard to beat. That’s one of the things that JL’s spoken to us about and we had an opportunity to do that today, and we’re just really proud of our whole group, the way they went about it, the way they applied themselves today.
“It’s one thing to talk about it, it’s another thing to do it after you’ve had a 10 for 60 collapse. That can shake a few people’s belief. Credit to our whole staff to keep the boys together and thinking clearly. We never lost hope that we could do that today. There were probably times where it was a bit of a dream. We just fought, dug in and played a brand the Australian cricket team wants to play.”
As for the closing moments of a nerve-wracking day, when Australia looked for so long to be comfortable in the task of saving the game before suddenly finding themselves with only two wickets in hand to face the final 12 overs, Paine said he and Nathan Lyon had tried to keep their composure by chatting about anything but cricket.
“We were both a bit nervous, no doubt about that. I felt in a really good space when I was batting with Uz. Just sort of got a partnership going. But as the wickets started to fall and the overs were getting closer it was a nervous feeling,” he said. “Lyono and I were actually talking about – because both of our families aren’t actually here at the moment and the rest of the guys’ are – we were just going to go down to the team room tonight and watch a few episodes of The Inbetweeners.
“That was what was getting Lyono through so I just went with him. Apparently we’re going to order a pizza tonight, go down to the team room and put Inbetweeners on. That’s our reward. That’s what got us through the last six or seven overs. Certainly is [still the plan]. It’ll be a different one for Lyono after a Test match that’s for sure. We haven’t got a long turnaround, so it’ll be a quiet one tonight.”
For his part, being a spectator for the final few moments of a match in which he had contributed so much was torturous for Khawaja. “I was absolutely crapping myself,” he said. “All that hard work that we’d done to set the game up in that last hour, then I got out and left Painey up with the big task to steer it home.
“Can’t deny how hard of a situation that is especially when you come off the field, you’ve done all that work, all you want is just ‘please, get through this’. Lyno batted beautifully and Painey batted beautiful at the end. Credit to all the guys who came before especially Heady [Travis Head], got a really good partnership going in his first Test. It was really hard when he came in yesterday but he got through that and played really well. Those are partnerships you need if you’re trying to save a match on the last day.”