Australia coach Justin Langer has spoken of his admiration for Usman Khawaja after the opener delivered a match-saving century in Dubai.
Backing up his first-innings hand of 85, Khawaja spent almost nine hours at the crease in energy-sapping 40-degree heat to craft a magnificent 141 from 302 balls in the second innings of the first Test as Australia avoided defeat against Pakistan.
Not only was the left-hander given the added responsiblity of being promoted to partner Aaron Finch at the top of the order in a revamped line-up, his record in Asia – a top score of 26 across nine previous innings before this Test and an average of 14 – made for grim reading.
But after shedding about 7kg since Australia’s tour of South Africa, Khawaja was rewarded for his hard labour and emphatically answered any doubts about his ability to play spin.
The left-hander entered this series in fine form, scoring a first-class hundred against India A last month while he also hammered a second-innings county century for Glamorgan earlier this year on a spinning wicket in Swansea.
"I’ve got so much admiration for Uzzie," Langer said after Australia finished 8-362 on the fifth day after conceding a sizeable first-innings deficit.
"He’s got himself really, really fit to bat in these conditions and to do what he’s done is a great credit to him but then to also overcome the demons.
"People have talked about whether he can play spin bowling. I never had a single doubt that Usman Khawaja could play spin bowling.
"And it’s great to see him getting the benefits of the Australian A tour and then the work he’s put into it to get rewarded for all the work he’s put in is massive for him.
"No doubt, he’s done some great things in Test cricket but when you have an innings like he’s just had then and a game actually – not just that innings – but the first innings was brilliant as well.
"You never underestimate again how that can take you to even a further level in your career. I’ve got huge - always have had as a player - huge admiration for what he’s done over the last six months.
"He’s done well, he’s made runs in county cricket, runs in Australia A cricket now he’s just had two brilliant innings in Test cricket. He’s doing exactly what we are asking of all batsmen in Australia to do. Be a good person, be super fit, and score lots of runs. It’s a great credit to him that he’s doing that."
While Khawaja was duly praised for his second-innings heroics, Australia would have suffered certain defeat had he not carved out a half-century in the first innings.
He faced 175 balls and put on a 142-run stand with Finch for the first wicket before Australia suffered a collapse of 10-60 to be all out for 202.
With three debutants – Finch, Travis Head and Marnus Labuschagne – in the XI, Australia desperately needed their leaders to respond to avoid a heavy defeat.
Khawaja, clearly Australia’s third most prolific batsman over the past three years behind suspended pair Steve Smith and David Warner, is needed now more than ever.
"Just as a senior Australian player, there’s always high expectation on him but he’s embraced it hasn’t he?" Langer said.
"He’s embraced it so well and he’s another great example of leadership without a title. He’s played the most Tests in the Australian team at the moment besides Nathan (Lyon) … and he hasn’t got a 'c' or 'vc' next to his name but he’s providing massive leadership to the group by everything he’s doing on and off the cricket field.
"He’s so calm, he’s got a good temperament, he’s leading by example in his preparation, he’s leading by example in his performance, so that’s the leadership we are talking about.
"All I ask him to bring is a smile. He’s a beautifully-talented player and he’s got an amazing temperament so with that smile and that temperament brings great leadership to the group."
Khawaja described Langer as an “extremely good communicator”.
"Whenever you talk to him about cricket you know it's coming from a good place,” Khawaja said.
"You can chat to him about the game and you can express your opinions and he won't take it to heart, and he does the same.
"It's obviously only one Test match that's happened so far but I think he instils a lot of belief in the guys as a team as a whole. And he's been there and done it too, obviously, so you get a lot of reassurance from that."
Qantas Tour of the UAE
Australia Test squad: Tim Paine (c), Ashton Agar, Brendan Doggett, Aaron Finch, Travis Head, Jon Holland, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitch Marsh, Shaun Marsh, Michael Neser, Matthew Renshaw, Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc
Pakistan Test squad: Sarfraz Ahmed (c), Azhar Ali, Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq, Babar Azam, Asad Shafiq, Haris Sohail, Usman Salahuddin, Yasir Shah, Shadab Khan, Bilal Asif, Mohammad Abbas, Hasan Ali, Wahab Riaz, Faheem Ashraf, Mir Hamza, Mohammad Rizwan, Mohammad Hafeez
Oct 7-11: First Test, drawn
Oct 16-20: Second Test, Abu Dhabi