Ponting's verdict on Khawaja's future
Test legend Ricky Ponting has his say about the prospects of a return to the national team for Usman Khawaja after he was dropped from Cricket Australia's national contract list
18 May 2020, 12:06 PM AEST
Australia Test legend Ricky Ponting has lamented that Usman Khawaja has failed to produce his "absolute best" in international cricket, conceding his road back to the national team will be "difficult".
But Ponting warned not to write off the 33-year-old left-hander who is soon to become a father for the first time.
Khawaja was dropped from the Australia team midway through last winter's Ashes series in England, then overlooked for Tests against Pakistan and New Zealand in the 2019-20 home summer.
He was the biggest casualty from Cricket Australia's annual national contract list but has boldly declared he believes he's still one of the country's top six batsmen.
Ponting, who has forged a close bond with the Queensland captain who made his debut as a replacement for an injured Ponting during the 2010-11 Ashes, remains hopeful that proves to be the case.
"One thing I know, you never write great players off," Ponting told ABC Grandstand.
"He's got every opportunity once domestic cricket does start this summer, and all he can do is represent Queensland, get a truck load of runs under his belt and wait for another opportunity to come along.
"If it does I'm sure he wouldn't let anyone down if he gets a chance to play again."
But Ponting, who made the No.3 spot his own during a glittering 168-Test career that yielded 13,378 runs at 51.9, said Khawaja's prospects had been hurt by inconsistency.
"I honestly think now he's going to find it difficult (to get back into the Australian team) and I feel for him," Ponting said.
"I love Usman Khawaja, I got really close to him over the last 10 years since he made his debut and I talk to him quite regularly.
"I've always felt he's a very good player and we probably never saw the absolute best of him at international cricket.
"We saw glimpses of it, and dribs and drabs, but not the consistently good player I thought he could have been for Australia."
Khawaja was a star performer in the domestic One-Day Cup last summer but failed to get going in the Marsh Sheffield Shield, where he made just 202 runs at 18.36 in seven games.
"If I'm looking at Test cricket, Usman's form in Sheffield Shield cricket didn't demand he was chosen for Australia," National Selector Trevor Hohns said when the national contracts were announced at the end of April.
"I think that's fair.
"We know Usman is a fabulous player, I don't have any doubts he'll accept the challenge to get back into the Australian side.
"He's been pretty good player for Australia, unfortunately the last 12 months hasn't been his best."
A defiant Khawaja who has long done things his own way, vowed to fight his way back into the Australian Test reckoning, declaring he believes he's worthy of inclusion in the top six.
"Without sounding arrogant, I still feel like I'm one of the top six batsmen in the country," Khawaja said.
"Age is just a number and if you're performing, you're performing; it's not like I'm 37 or 38 and coming into right at the end of my career," Khawaja said on Fox Sports.
"My playing against spin has been right up there as some of the best in the county. Bar maybe Steve Smith, who is an absolute genius.
"But the most important thing is to score runs."
Khawaja has scored 2,887 runs in his 44 Tests at 40.66 with eight centuries and 14 fifties, as well as 1,554 runs in 40 ODIs at 42 with two hundreds.
His early career was marked by inconsistency in selection as much as his batting. He played only nine of Australia's next 30 Tests after his debut until he was dropped midway through the 2013 Ashes.
He spent the next 18 months out of the side, during which he had a knee reconstruction following an incident during training with the Sydney Thunder.
His recall in November 2015 saw him dominate New Zealand and he West Indies in a gleeful home summer as he hit a career-high 174 at the Gabba in his first Test back.
In mid-2016 was jettisoned in Sri Lanka after failures in the first two Tests, but returned again for the home summer series to play all six Tests against South Africa and Pakistan as the team went through a renewal.
He was sidelined again for the captivating 2017 Test series in India, and when recalled for the first Test in Bangladesh later that winter, was just as quickly jettisoned again for the second.
Back on home turf he was immediately recalled and played all five Tests in the 2017-18 summer against England, and all four of the fateful South Africa tour in the autumn of 2018.
From that last recall he had played every Test until discarded after the Headingley Test last winter, squeezed out by the stunning arrival of state teammate Marnus Labuschagne and the return from concussion of Steve Smith.
The latest axing will have cut deep, but for Khawaja it's not unfamiliar territory.
"I've been through it all, I've seen a lot of different coaches, and I've been in and out of the team a lot – especially in my younger years," Khawaja told cricket.com.au in 2018.
"I've learnt to just realise there are some things you can't control."