Men's Ashes 2021-22
Khawaja eyes SCG and beyond as Aussies cleared
Veteran batter set for a Test recall while concerns ease somewhat over COVID-19 fears given negative test results
AAP & cricket.com.au
1 January 2022, 03:07 PM AEST
Usman Khawaja looks all but assured to play his first Test in more than two years as a replacement for Travis Head, who at this stage seems likely to be the only enforced omission for the SCG Test after the rest of the Australia squad tested negative for COVID-19 on Saturday.
Head is isolating in Melbourne after contracting the virus, meaning he will miss the fourth Vodafone Ashes Test that begins on Wednesday.
There were concerns that teammates and support staff would become part of an outbreak, prompting selectors to add cover players Mitch Marsh, Nic Maddinson and Josh Inglis to an enlarged squad.
But it appears Khawaja will return to the side ahead of those options at No.5 – the only position in the top six in which he has never batted in Test cricket.
The 35-year-old, who debuted on the SCG almost 11 years ago, is second on the list of Marsh Sheffield Shield run scorers this summer though his recent weeks spent as a Test squad member means he has been devoid of time in the middle.
"It's always nicer when you're coming off games – I haven't played for a month now – but it shouldn't take too long hopefully, if I play and get out there, bat for half an hour and get into it, I should find that sync again," the Queensland captain said today.
"It's one of those things where even if I do play, it'll only be for one game … I understand that situation … hopefully I can go out there and score a hundred and do well for the team in the absence of 'Heady'."
Khawaja's Shield form as well as his versatility has put him back in the frame after it seemed his international days might well be over, and as one of just three Australians in the selection frame to have score a Test hundred in Asia (Steve Smith and David Warner are the others, while Glenn Maxwell and Shaun Marsh do not appear to be in current calculations) and three Test tours of the subcontinent scheduled in the next 12 or so months, his stocks have again risen.
"There's a lot of cricket still to come up," he said. "I'm just putting my head down, making sure I'm working really hard and doing the best I can for Australia whenever I get the opportunity.
"I'll potentially have one game for Australia here, but even if that doesn't happen, I know there's still … a lot of cricket on the subcontinent which I feel I'm very suited too, and which I'm looking forward to hopefully being a part of moving forward.
"I'm fit and healthy. Touch wood, the body's feeling great … I'm in the best cricket conditioning (I've been), I don't get as sore as I used to … I love it, still enjoying it, very competitive."
Meanwhile, every person in Australia's touring party, including family members, underwent COVID-19 testing on Friday, with Cricket Australia (CA) confirming there are no new cases among players and support staff.
The test result of one family member is yet to be received, with CA unsure when it will be returned.
CA was notably concerned about opener Marcus Harris, who dined with Head this week as Australia celebrated taking an unassailable 3-0 lead in the five-Test series against England.
Harris did not board Friday's charter flight, remaining in Melbourne as a precautionary measure.
CA is still mulling the best way for Harris, Marsh, Maddinson and Inglis to travel from Melbourne to Sydney for the fourth Test.
Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon drove from Victoria to NSW and it's possible the quartet may also hit the road.
A charter flight would be a costly exercise for four squad members, the majority of whom are likely to be running drinks in Sydney.
CA's health experts have shielded Australian and English players from commercial airlines to reduce the risk of any of them catching the coronavirus.
Players from both squads are being tested daily.
But at this stage, CA have opted against dialling up biosecurity restrictions.
It means the enlarged squad, which will feature a total of 19 players once Harris and the newcomers link up with teammates, will train together rather than in smaller groups.
Players and support staff are barred from dining indoors but free to leave their hotels provided they practise social distancing.
The situation is in sharp contrast to a year ago when both squads spent the second half of the Australia-India series in hotel lockdown.
Three support staff and four family members in England's travelling group contracted COVID-19 in Melbourne, while under-pressure coach Chris Silverwood did not make the trip north because he is isolating as a close contact.
Match referee David Boon is also isolating after testing positive, meaning NSW-based Steve Bernard will be in charge of the SCG Test.
Vodafone Men's Ashes
Australia: Pat Cummins (c), Steve Smith (vc), Scott Boland, Alex Carey, Cameron Green, Josh Hazlewood, Marcus Harris, Travis Head, Josh Inglis, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitch Marsh, Nic Maddinson, Michael Neser, Jhye Richardson, Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Swepson, David Warner
England: Joe Root (c), James Anderson, Jonathan Bairstow, Dom Bess, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Zak Crawley, Haseeb Hameed, Dan Lawrence, Jack Leach, Dawid Malan, Craig Overton, Ollie Pope, Ollie Robinson, Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood
First Test: Australia won by nine wickets
Second Test: Australia won by 275 runs
Third Test: Australia won by an innings and 14 runs
Fourth Test: January 5-9, SCG
Fifth Test: January 14-18, Blundstone Arena