Marsh One-Day Cup 2019
Why not? Khawaja finds his feet after Ashes axing
Never one to fit the stereotypes, Usman Khawaja is back to doing things his own way after starting the home summer with a ton
30 September 2019, 03:34 PM AEST
Usman Khawaja has been dropped from Australian teams many times since making his debut as Ricky Ponting's stand-in in 2011, but admits his Ashes axing broke new ground for him.
Khawaja has had a complicated relationship with Australian cricket, ranging from adulation to opprobrium, often finding himself the touchpaper for public criticism amid batting failures.
He learned to shrug it off long ago, a by-product of the resilience he's developed over nearly a decade of being in and out of the national team, and the laidback attitude that's permeated from his years in Queensland.
He's often done things his own way – like customising basketball shoes to bat in, enjoying the comfort they offer for his personal taste over traditional cricket footwear.
Customising shoes isn't unusual for elite cricketers. Taking a shoe designed for streetwear as much as the hardwood, and adding extra toe protection as well as spikes, is. Khawaja has never been one to fit the stereotypes.
At the World Cup the Australian batted in customised Nike shoes designed for polarising NBA star Russell Westbrook. They were chosen because they ticked the twin boxes of comfort and they came in all white.
They could just have easily been for some poignancy in the 'Why Not?' challenge Westbrook developed as his mantra, and for which those shoes are named.
Westbrook uses his 'Why Not?' mantra to shrug off naysayers, and while Khawaja is far from as outlandish and outspoken a personality as the American, it's not hard to imagine a similar challenge driving him.
Fresh from being dropped for the final two Tests of Australia's Ashes campaign, Khawaja smashed 138 for the Queensland Bulls in his first competitive fixture since that tour, to lead his state to a big Marsh One-Day Cup win against Victoria on Sunday.
He denies any intention to send a statement with the knock but admits the Ashes axing was one of the more perplexing of his career.
"It was the first time I got dropped when I didn't actually feel that out of nick," Khawaja told cricket.com.au after leading his state to a 154-run win.
"I was in a really good place and I felt really good whilst I was in England both for the World Cup and even for those Test matches.
"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.
"I felt like I was hitting the ball really well, but it was what it was, so it had no lingering effects for me coming in."
Khawaja captained the Australian XI in that second tour match between the third and fourth Tests, scoring 72, before being the man to make way at Old Trafford as selectors opted to stick with the more traditional, if under-performing, opening batsmen.
While the coming Marsh Sheffield Shield season will see Khawaja in a batting showdown for berths in the Australian side for the opening Domain Test, the international summer begins with six T20 internationals against Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
On the back of a solid World Cup and explosive Marsh One-Day Cup form, the left-hander could find himself in the mix for his first T20 international since September 2016, coincidentally also against Sri Lanka.
"All forms of cricket for Australia are always on my radar," Khawaja said. "As I've said before, I don't like to look too far ahead, always try and stay in the moment, try to do what's right for Queensland.
"Selection will take care of itself, good or bad, or whatever. For me it's just about enjoying being back at home, I haven't been home a lot the last 18 months."
Queensland face another one-dayer against Victoria on Tuesday before Khawaja can return home to Brisbane, with fellow Bulls opener Sam Heazlett another putting his hand up early for next summer's T20 World Cup.
Heazlett has scores of 70, 51 and 88 so far in the Marsh Cup, striking at 112.36 in his first season as an opener.
"He's doing it every game, not just a fifty here and there, and he did it for us last year, too," Khawaja said.
"His development is really nice to see. When he first started for us he was batting in the middle order, so he's got a promotion and doing it really well.
"He had really clear plans in the off-season on what he was trying to work on. He's always had his head switched on, he's a very motivated young fella so it's nice to see him get runs because he works as hard as anyone.
"It's nice to see him being that consistent because that's what you want from your top order players.
"And to top it off he's really good in the field, he's one of the fastest people I've ever seen in the field.
"He's a good all-round package to have … and he's working on his off-spinners, too."