'A' One-Day Quad-Series
Lighter, fitter, faster: Khawaja 2.0
Test No.3 in the shape of his life and hungry for runs as he heads to India with Australia A
13 August 2018, 02:46 PM AEST
Incumbent Test No.3 Usman Khawaja is fitter and leaner than he has ever been as he prepares to impress national coach number five of his career.
With Steve Smith suspended, Khawaja is the player whose Test career stretches back the longest among the current Australian group, with the left-hander having debuted as a stylish 24-year-old stroke-maker back in January 2011.
In the intervening years, he has played just 33 of Australia's 83 Tests, though more recently he has played 24 of the past 32 since his recall in November 2015.
But it has been the time away from the demands of international cricket that Khawaja has capitalised on over the past five months, putting himself through the most gruelling fitness schedule of his career.
"I've dropped seven kilos since South Africa – I'm down to 77kg," Khawaja told cricket.com.au.
"I got just about 7:30 in my 2km time trial, which is a PB. I did jump testing the other day and I jumped higher than I have before.
"So all the markers have been better than I've had for at least the last five years."
Prior to heading to South Africa in February, Khawaja spoke with Queensland strength and conditioning coach Paul Chapman, and Australian team physical performance coach Aaron Kellett about his fitness.
"I wanted to get fitter, lose a bit of weight and keep my strength," he explained. "I'd found it a bit difficult in the past few years, especially after coming back from my (knee reconstruction), to get in the work.
"It's always hard coming back from a major injury and it's only the last 12 months I've felt in a good place again, ready to go a bit harder."
Khawaja has teamed up with his wife, Rachel, in sessions at the local gym, and pushed himself through his own sprint sessions. He has also been more diligent with his diet and transformed a room at home into a personal gym.
"I did it all on my own pretty much," he said. "I had a month-and-a-half on my own (after South Africa) just doing fitness stuff, going to the gym.
"I had a space downstairs where I've set up my own gym now, I invested some money in that and it's great. I can just walk downstairs now, do what I want to do."
Khawaja insists that the hard work is not a dramatic departure from his previous approach to training, though he concedes this recent period has been a step up from his usual workload.
"There's been that perception that I didn't do that stuff behind the scenes, but I did – just probably not as much as I have recently," he added.
"Part of that is because you play so much cricket, so it's a bit of a catch-22 – you want to be fresh to play as well as you can."
Either way, Khawaja's marked improvements and fresh attitude towards fitness will be music to the ears of new national coach Justin Langer, who values that side of the game highly.
The 31-year-old spoke to Langer at length when he was overlooked for the June ODI tour of England, having publicly expressed his disappointment at the omission. Through those talks, he was able to gain some clarity about what is required of him as he looks to retain his place in the Test side for the upcoming two-match series against Pakistan in October.
"We had long conversations," Khawaja said. "He knew I was disappointed. We had some really good chats. I know the expectations, and I know where I stand."
Despite playing Australia's past eight Tests, Khawaja was not one of the batsmen excluded from the Australia A tour of India, which looms effectively as a final selection trial for the Pakistan Tests.
Incumbent pair Shaun Marsh and Joe Burns, as well as Victoria's Glenn Maxwell, will not tour, perhaps suggesting Khawaja still needs to convince selectors of his ability to score runs in Asia, where he averages 14.62 from nine Test innings.
But the Queensland captain is refusing to put himself under pressure – a mentality he believes has served him well in recent years.
"I'm not going into any game thinking 'I have to score runs' – I want to score runs in any game I play," he said.
"For me, the main thing is if I'm still enjoying it, and at the moment I am. That's been my mindset the last five, six years.
"'JL' (Langer) is my fifth coach of Australia now (after Tim Nielsen, stand-in Troy Cooley, Mickey Arthur and Darren Lehmann).
"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. I've learnt to just realise there are some things you can't control.
"Hopefully I can go out there and do really well in the 'A' stuff and the rest will take care of itself.
"But if I don't, I know it's not the end of the world."
If his recent form is anything to go by, Khawaja could well flourish in India; the left-hander piled on a record-breaking three hundreds in his first three matches for Glamorgan in the County Championship, a couple of which came in trials by spin.
"Two out of the three wickets actually turned pretty big, which was nice," he said. "One of the games I played at Swansea, when I scored a hundred in the second innings, it was spinning the whole way through.
"And the first game I was facing a quality (spin) bowler in Jeetan Patel for Warwickshire, who bowled a whole heap of overs in the second innings.
"It was just really nice to get some time in the middle. You can bat as much as you want in the nets, but it's never the same as putting yourself under pressure in the middle."
As for whether the hundreds were an immediate return on the hard fitness work, Khawaja isn't convinced, though he does believe a positive mindset is crucial to success.
"I've got to be honest, I really don't think they're linked," he said. "I'd love to say they are – that I scored three hundreds because I'm fitter or I'm doing all this stuff, but cricket's a skill game.
"But you do have to enjoy what you're doing. I remember working my arse off before the 2013 Ashes and I went there and only scored one fifty and didn't play well, and got dropped.
"But I probably wasn't in a good space (mentally); if you're doing fitness work, you're starving yourself and you're in a bad headspace, then I don't reckon you're going to score runs – no matter how fit you get.
"But this is the first time I haven't really given a crap about what anyone else thinks – I'm doing this for myself, trying to be the best version of myself, and I've been enjoying it.
"So with that mindset, then yes, the fitness can translate (to better performances with the bat)."
Australia A Tour of India
Australia A one-day squad: Travis Head (c), Alex Carey (vc), Ashton Agar, Peter Handscomb, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Michael Neser, Joel Paris, Matthew Renshaw, Jhye Richardson, D'Arcy Short, Billy Stanlake, Mitch Swepson, Chris Tremain, Jack Wildermuth
One-day fixtures in Vijayawada
17 August v India A
19 August v South Africa A
21 August v India B
23 August v India A
25 August v South Africa A
27 August v India B
29 August - Quad-Series Final
Australia A four-day squad: Mitchell Marsh (c), Alex Carey (vc), Ashton Agar, Brendan Doggett, Peter Handscomb, Travis Head, Jon Holland, Usman Khawaja, Michael Neser, Joel Paris, Kurtis Patterson, Matthew Renshaw, Mitch Swepson, Chris Tremain
Four-day fixtures in Vizag
2-5 September v India A
8-11 September v India A