Burns, Khawaja score timely tons

24 October 2015

Queensland put the heat on New Zealand // Getty Images


Queensland pair each score centuries to further press claims for a Test recall on day against New Zealand in Canberra

New Zealand Tour of Australia, Two-Day Tour Match


If cricket in the national capital played out with the same ruthless intent as federal politics, it’s fair to assume the Cricket Australia XI might not be sitting quite so pretty in their two-day tour match against New Zealand.

With the top six CA batsmen all realistically vying for a handful of places in the team for the summer’s opening Test in Brisbane next month, the aspirants adopted a strategy far more collegiate than cut-throat to ensure all had a chance to state their respective cases.

If it were a leadership battle, one could have expected either of the duelling openers Cameron Bancroft and Joe Burns to bunt a ball to cover, call ‘yes’ then ‘no’ in mock apology and thereby eliminate their rival from the race.

Instead, on a dry, flat pitch that gave bowlers less hope than reformist legislation through a hostile Senate, the CA batsmen shared the love and finished the first of the warm-up match’s two days at 4-325.

Among those to cash in against a Black Caps bowling line-up missing Test spearhead Tim Southee, who was rested from the action in the wake of last night’s one-dayer against a Prime Minister’s XI and the tight turnaround start time this morning, was Burns who posted a timely ton. 

WATCH: Burns scores timely ton

And no sooner had he reached his 102 from 155 balls than he retired from the contest to allow middle-order Test incumbent Adam Voges a chance to shore up his place.

After which Voges – who had batted longer than any of his top-order teammates in scoring 55 the previous evening – voluntarily withdrew having scored 33, to allow Shaun Marsh a belated chance in the final session to justify his trip to Canberra.

Unfortunately, Marsh became only the second wicket to fall to NZ’s flagging bowlers – after Bancroft had nicked behind for 42 – when he went after Test spinner Mark Craig and under-clubbed a simple catch to mid-on.

Then CA XI skipper Usman Khawaja did his bid for the pivotal number three berth little harm by breezing to a century after he and Black Caps skipper Brendon McCullum agreed what was essentially a centre wicket practice session should end on the dot of 90 overs bowled.

Khawaja finished the day unbeaten on 111 from 168 balls including 20 boundaries, and is expected to extend the sharing spirit by declaring his team’s innings closed overnight and allowing the tourists a chance for some red-ball practice. 

WATCH: Classy Khawaja posts century

As Burns – who might now have nudged ahead of Bancroft as favourite to partner David Warner in the first Test in Brisbane - later acknowledged, unlike politics the competitive element of cricket is most often directed externally, at the opposition.

"I don’t see it as us competing with each other," Burns said when asked if there was a sense of competition among the batters after Khawaja won the toss and gleefully took first use of a benign strip.

"I know how good the feeling is to represent Australia and whoever is picked you’d be happy for them because you know how enjoyable it is and the challenges that lie ahead.

"There’s a few of us in the same boat, but at no stage are you out there thinking it’s me or it’s him."

For Burns, who has established himself as a specialist opener in Queensland’s Sheffield Shield team despite making his Test debut last year in Australia’s middle-order, it was a welcome opportunity to take a long look at the Black Caps bowlers.

While likely Test seamers Trent Boult (0-30 from 14 overs), Matt Henry (0-72 from 18) and Doug Bracewell (1-52 from 14) found neither swing nor seam movement on the bitumen-like surface and Craig’s off-spin (1-105 off 22) was targeted Burns found himself being constantly challenged.

Most often by the innovative, intuitive field settings that McCullum employed with catchers placed more regularly in front of the bat than in traditional predatory positions in the cordon, in deference to the reality that few balls threatened to beat the edge.

Having played alongside McCullum for the Brisbane Heat in the KFC Big Bash League, Burns is aware of the insights the 34-year-old brings to any team.

But in his maiden match against the Black Caps he also learned quickly that even when there is nothing in the conditions to aid his bowlers, McCullum can manufacture ways to exert pressure.

"They’re a very skilful group, they’re well led by Brendon McCullum and they’re always searching for ways to get you out," Burns said.

"To play against them and see the way they play the game, to find ways to counteract that and keep scoring with what they’re coming at you with it’s been really valuable experience today.

"They are constantly trying to get you out, and it’s quite refreshing really … you need to not just find a way to not get out, but also to counteract and score. 

"To knock them off those aggressive plans.

"I felt in control of the tempo of my innings, which for me in long-form cricket is a big thing.

"When they were bowling well I was able to weather the storm and when I felt like there scoring opportunities to be able to take them and get the innings ticking along consistently.

"I feel that it’s a strength of my game to be able to dictate at times the scoring, I know when I’m batting well when I can do that so it’s nice to feel like I’m in good nick at this stage of the year because it’s going to be a massive summer ahead."

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