Domain Tests v India
Fitness focus behind Khawaja's classic
Test great Ricky Ponting says Usman Khawaja's flying catch was evidence of the benefits of Justin Langer's fitness fanaticism
Martin Smith at the Adelaide Oval
6 December 2018, 08:34 PM AEST
Former Test captain Ricky Ponting has praised Usman Khawaja's development from an 'unnatural' fielder to a fit and reliable catcher who produced possibly the grab of the summer on day one of the Test season.
And Ponting says the "clear direction" from new coach Justin Langer about improved player fitness has played an important role in the strides Khawaja has made this year.
Ponting was Australia's skipper when Khawaja was first called into the Test squad in 2010 and immediately recognised both the left-hander's pedigree as a batsman and his shortcomings in the field.
Now 31, Khawaja improvements as a fielder were on full display on Thursday when he produced a potentially series-defining one-handed catch to remove Indian skipper Virat Kohli on the opening morning of the first Domain Test in Adelaide.
Fielding in the gully, Khawaja flung himself to his unnatural left side to hang on to a sharp catch, one of four wickets to fall in the first session of an opening day that belonged to the home side.
"It's a great catch because of how much he's moved to his weak side," Ponting told cricket.com.au.
"But when you add on the fact that it's Virat Kohli in the first innings of the first Test of the summer, that makes it an even better catch.
"He's improved his fielding out of sight. I'm on record as saying that when he first came into the side years ago, it was almost an aspect of his game that he hadn't worked on much.
"He'd obviously always been a gun batsman as a junior and probably never focused as much on his fielding as he needed to … that's certainly the way it looked.
"You can see now he's a bit trimmer, he's lost a bit of weight, he's obviously more focused on his fitness and his fielding than ever before. And I think that shows with his batting (and) the way he applies himself as well."
It's the second year in a row than an Australian has taken a half-chance in the field to light up the opening day of the Test summer; 12 months ago, Nathan Lyon produced a superb run out in the first Test against England at the Gabba, a moment that would help turn the match – and the series – Australia's way.
"The reason you do all your training and all your hard work before the game is just in case a moment like that comes," Ponting said of Khawaja's catch.
"You want to make sure you've practiced it and trained it so it's not a fluke when you actually take one in a game."
Khawaja revealed to cricket.com.au in August he had shed seven kilograms since Australia's tour of South Africa in March, and this week revealed that figure was now up to 10kg, while new Test opener Aaron Finch is also fitter than he's ever been.
Ponting was part of Langer's coaching staff for his first tour as head coach in England earlier this year, and said the message from the new boss, a renowned fitness fanatic, to his players was clear.
"I know those guys were given some pretty clear direction on the way they needed to present themselves at the start of the summer," Ponting said.
"I know Justin's philosophies on that sort of stuff and it's fair enough. These guys are highly paid professional athletes and when you have days like this (on Thursday) when it's 39 degrees, it's obviously going to be easier getting around when you're 10 kilos lighter.
"It helps preserve your energy, but also mentally it's obviously going to make things easier.
"Full credit to those guys, they've obviously put in the work and it's started to pay off for them."
Khawaja, an avid basketball fan, said NBA superstar LeBron James had helped inspire his weight loss this year.
"I just wanted to make sure that I was the best version of myself," he told RSN radio this week.
"One of my favourite athletes, LeBron James, does that as well as anyone else.
"It wasn't a thing where I was like 'CA's coming down on me telling me to lose weight and I have to do it or else I'm not playing'. It wasn't Big Brother or anything.
"That was probably one part of my game and place that I wanted to work hard on and make sure I was in the right physical shape for international cricket."
Domain Test Series v India
Dec 6-10: First Test, Adelaide Oval
Dec 14-18: Second Test, Perth Stadium
Dec 26-30: Third Test, MCG
Jan 3-7: Fourth Test, SCG
Australia squad: Tim Paine (c, wk), Josh Hazlewood (vc), Mitch Marsh (vc), Pat Cummins, Aaron Finch, Peter Handscomb, Marcus Harris, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, Shaun Marsh, Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc, Chris Tremain
India squad: Virat Kohli (c), Murali Vijay, KL Rahul, Prithvi Shaw, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Hanuma Vihari, Rohit Sharma, Rishabh Pant (wk), Parthiv Patel (wk), Ravi Ashwin, Ravi Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar