Khawaja's cruel blow as Bulls teammates thrive
Marnus Labuschagne's stunning rise to form helped hasten his state captain Usman Khawaja to Australia's exit door, with another Bull Joe Burns standing in his way of a possible return
30 April 2020, 04:32 PM AEST
Usman Khawaja was the last name cut from the 20-man list of Australia's national contracts for the 2020-21 season, but it will be cold comfort for the top-order batsman who's now been on the receiving end of three snubs from selectors in the past seven months.
The first was his axing midway through last winter's Ashes series and, although he captained an Australian XI in the tour match between the third and fourth Tests, he has not played Test cricket since.
The next came when one Khawaja – one of the key performers during last winter's World Cup and following a hot-streak in the Marsh One-Day Cup – was given the cold shoulder from the ODI side that toured India and South Africa this summer.
The latest was delivered today when Australia's National Selection Panel dropped him from their national contract list for the first time in five years.
"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 today.
"I think that's fair.
"In one-day cricket he didn't play for Australia despite being in very good form in the Marsh Cup. But the area he operates in, like a couple of other unlucky omissions, is up the top.
"We're pretty well looked after up there with Aaron Finch, David Warner, Steve Smith and now Marnus Labuschagne.
"It was a difficult time for him.
"Uzzie was the hardest (decision) because he was ranked in two of the three formats, but just fell out of the bottom of the list.
"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."
Khawaja may dispute that, having previously claimed he was harshly treated by selectors.
On his Ashes axing he told cricket.com.au last September: "It was the first time I got dropped when I didn't actually feel that out of nick. I didn't get the big score but getting 40 (in the first Test at Edgbaston) and 36 (in the second at Lord's) in tough conditions, I felt really good. I got a couple of fifties in the tour games too."
Being cut from the ODI team hurt more. "I wasn't expecting to be dropped. It took me by a little bit of shock," Khawaja said in December when he was dropped. "They (selectors) can't really tell me to score more runs – I'm one of the highest run scorers in international cricket. I scored plenty of runs when I came back here (in the Marsh Cup).
"I don't think there was much they could say and I don't think there was much I wanted to say back to them. It's disappointing."
In a twist of fate, it's Khawaja's state teammate Labuschagne who's helped hasten Khawaja to the exit in both formats.
Arriving as a concussion sub for Steve Smith in the second Ashes Test, Labuschagne hit 74 and 80 in the third Test at Headingley to hold his spot when Smith returned at Old Trafford.
When the India ODI squad rolled around, it was Labuschagne in Khawaja's spot again.
"He's been fantastic," Hohns enthused of Labuschagne today. "Everyone was waiting for the bubble to burst to be honest, but he's gone from strength to strength representing Australia, not only in Test but one-day cricket as well.
"He's been a revelation and deserves all the accolades he gets.
"He's probably one of the hardest workers in that group and he's dragging others along with him.
"He's had a massive influence in that area as well as far as work ethic goes. Everyone hopes he can continue in the form he's been in."
If Khawaja is to find an avenue back to the Test team, it could well come at the expense of another Queensland teammate, in opener Joe Burns.
Burns was endorsed as Australia's long-term opening partner for David Warner when he was included on the national contract list, although Hohns made it clear there was room for improvement.
"His form wasn't great but it was ok," Hohns said of Burns, who made his debut in the middle order in the 2016 Boxing Day Test.
"He and Dave Warner have formed quite a good opening combination. We're quite happy with him at the moment and he featured heavily in our discussions for the (now postponed) Bangladesh tour.
"(But) there's no reason why Khawaja couldn't open the batting for Australia down the track.
"There's no doubt Usman could perform that role, a lot will depend on how he comes back, where he bats for his state, and then it's a matter of really demanding to be chosen again."
Khawaja averages 96.8 opening the batting in Test cricket, with two hundreds and two fifties from seven innings. He's scored six hundreds and averages 37.19 at No.3 where he's played the vast majority of his cricket.
Hohns said a combination of selectors' personal observations, analytical data and projections on "where they may fit in to our teams in the next 12 months" went into deciding the central list.
"We take other things into account and these days a fair amount is placed on character, fitness and how they present themselves. All those things come into play when we're ranking them," he added.
Khawaja – like the other players omitted from the national list – have received written feedback from selectors on why they were dropped, and will be able to discuss that in a call with the head coach Justin Langer over the coming days.