Khawaja earns strong backing from Smith | cricket.com.au

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Khawaja earns strong backing from Smith

Left-hander in prime position for recall in Bangladesh after seven months on the sidelines

Australia captain Steve Smith has given a strong indication that Usman Khawaja will return to the Test side for the series opener against Bangladesh from August 27.

Speaking ahead of Australia's departure to Dhaka after a week-long training camp in Darwin, Smith stressed the importance of Khawaja to Australia's Ashes campaign this summer, a longer-term outlook that is set to see the left-hander reinstated in the pivotal No.3 position when the Australians meet the Tigers for the first time in more than 11 years.

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"I think Usman's going to be a really big player for us this summer," said the skipper.

"He's done incredibly well in Australia over the last couple of years and it would be good for him to (play) some cricket … he’s chomping at the bit to get out there and I daresay he’ll get his opportunity."

Khawaja passed fifty in all six home Tests last summer, but was dropped from the side for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy series in India, ostensibly due to a disappointing two Tests in Sri Lanka last year, during which he was also dropped for the final match after scores of 26, 18, 11 and 0.

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Consequently, the 30-year-old hasn't played competitive cricket since an ODI against Pakistan in Sydney on January 22.

In Darwin, the Queensland captain only made modest contributions in the intra-squad practice match, with scores of 7 and 1, and a worrying weather outlook ahead of next week's two-day warm-up match in Bangladesh could see him head into the first Test short on valuable time in the middle.

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Coach Darren Lehmann and selector-on-duty Trevor Hohns will settle on the XI for the first Test following the warm-up match.

The selectors have the alternative option of Hilton Cartwright, who debuted at No.6 against Pakistan in Sydney last summer and could feasibly play the same position again, with Smith moving up to No.3 and Peter Handscomb and Glenn Maxwell at No.4 and No.5 respectively.

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However Smith suggested the likely return of Khawaja would see the captain stay at No.4, where he averages 75.29 from 18 Tests, with seven hundreds.

"I’d say if Usman plays he’ll probably bat three and I’ll slot in at four," he said.

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"I see Usman as more of a top-order batsman and I don’t really have a big issue, whether it’s three or four – I won’t go lower than that."

As well as presenting Khawaja with another run in the Test team and some much-needed competitive cricket ahead of the arrival of England in November, the Bangladesh series looms as an opportunity for him to reverse perceptions about his play against slow bowling in spin-friendly conditions; in four Tests in Asia, he has batted seven times for a highest score of 26 and an average of 19.16.

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Australia won their only Test series in Bangladesh 2-0 in 2006, and the hosts have won just nine of 100 Tests in their brief history, though their recent results – including a 1-1 series at home to England last year – have shown marked improvements.

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"They’re a very good side in their own conditions and they’re going to be very challenging," Smith said.

"It will be great for us to get some game time there and play in those conditions, and see what we’ve learnt from India.

"Hopefully the guys have learnt a lot, and we’re able to take that into this tour and have a really successful one." 

Australia in Bangladesh 2017

Australia squad: Steve Smith (c), David Warner (vc), Ashton Agar, Jackson Bird, Hilton Cartwright, Pat Cummins, Peter Handscomb, Josh Hazlewood, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, Glenn Maxwell, Matthew Renshaw, Mitchell Swepson, Matthew Wade.

Bangladesh squad (preliminary): Tamim Iqbal, Imrul Kayes, Soumya Sarkar, Mushfiqur Rahim, Shakib Al Hasan, Sabbir Rahman, Mashrafe Bin Mortaza, Mahmudullah Riyad, Liton Kumar Das, Mominul Haque, Mehedi Hasan, Taijul Islam, Mustafizur Rahman, Taskin Ahmed, Subhashish Roy, Kamrul Islam Rabbi, Rubel Hossain, Nurul Hasan, Sanjamul Islam, Mosaddek Hossain Saikat, Mohammad Saifuddin, Anamul Haque, Abul Hasan Raju, Al Amin Hossain, Nasir Hossain, Muktar Ali, Tanbir Haider, Saqlain Sajib, Shafiul Islam.


11-17 August Australia pre-tour training camp, Darwin


18 August Australia arrive


22-23 August Tour match,Fatullah


27-31 August First Test, Dhaka


4-8 September Second Test, Chittagong