Former Australia batsman Simon Katich says he wouldn’t be surprised if Usman Khawaja is elevated to opener for the upcoming Test series against Pakistan in the UAE.
Out of his 57 Test innings, Khawaja has batted at No.3 on 51 occasions, but Katich says Australia’s dearth of senior batsmen in the wake of the Cape Town ball-tampering scandal makes Khawaja a possible choice to face the new ball.
"I think they need some seniority at the top of the order and given he (Khawaja) has batted at three it might actually suit him to get out there and get into it straight away," Katich said on SEN’s Whateley program.
"He is an opener from way back when he first started playing club cricket."
While Khawaja’s record in Asia has been well documented – an average of 14.62 in nine innings with a top score of 26 – he has done exceptionally well when tasked with opening the batting.
In two innings as Test opener, Khawaja has scored 145 against South Africa at Adelaide Oval in 2017 and 79 not out against Pakistan in Sydney’s New Year’s Test when he replaced youngster Matt Renshaw, who was unable to bat due to concussion.
Renshaw was dropped for the home Ashes last summer but returned to the Test XI for the final match in South Africa in April after a dominant second half of the JLT Sheffield Shield season, where he scored three centuries in Queensland’s title win.
Despite missing out in Johannesburg, the 22-year-old’s red-hot form followed him to England and County club Somerset, for whom he plundered 523 in six first-class matches including three centuries.
It’s that form that has Katich believing the left-hander will start the home summer at the top of the order in Australia’s Test team.
"The one positive for me recently is that Matt Renshaw made a lot of County runs in England, which is a great sign for a young player," Katich said.
"He’ll definitely get a look-in at the start of the Australian summer if he can back it up with some Shield runs and potentially some runs on this A tour.
Katich continued: "I think he’s done a fair bit since he’s been dropped so in terms of runs on the board you can’t fault what he’s done playing for Queensland last year and in England for Somerset.
"I’d say he’s going to be a frontrunner for that role.
"Who opens with him? I think the Pakistan series might tell a few stories.
"It wouldn’t surprise me if Usman Khawaja opened in that series."
Australia is set to unveil a new-look middle order for the Pakistan Test series and the home summer without the presence of suspended skipper Steve Smith.
Victoria’s Glenn Maxwell, along with the Queensland duo of Renshaw and Joe Burns, was called into Australia’s squad for the fourth Test at The Wanderers, but he missed selection as his state captain Peter Handscomb was recalled.
Maxwell has played seven Tests, exclusively in Asia, and is regarded as a quality player of spin bowling.
The 29-year-old scored his maiden Test century in the drawn third Test in Ranchi against India last year and is expected to make Australia’s squad for the two-Test series to face Pakistan in the UAE.
Maxwell’s form in the June ODI series in England was mixed – 112 runs in three innings with one half-century – before a shoulder injury curtailed his involvement.
But Katich says Maxwell will be in the mix for a Test spot at home next summer should he score enough runs at the right time.
"I think he needs to get some runs on the board at the start of the season and particularly if he wants to grab an opportunity in this Test team," he said.
"He’s sort of been in and out and done well in the subcontinent at times but he hasn’t really had a good run at it at home in Australia.
"That’s probably what most guys need to find their feet at Test level, to play in conditions that they have done in many years in domestic cricket."