Just a couple of months ago Usman Khawaja wouldn’t have thought he would be in the Australian test squad heading to Pakistan, but plenty has changed this summer.
Now, the 35-year-old will get to go on the trip of a lifetime, shaping as an important member of Australia’s batting line-up as they travel to Pakistan for a historic three-test series.
It will be the first time since 1998 that the Aussies will step foot in Pakistan, having played their previous overseas tours against the nation in the UAE.
For Khawaja, who has family “all over Pakistan” and was born in the country, it means a little more that he’ll finally get to play a test series in the nation.
“Any tour for Australia is great, but going to Pakistan is pretty special because I was born there and because they haven’t had cricket there in so long,” Khawaja said.
“There’s been a lot of work to get to where we are now, it’s massive for Australian cricket. Part of it is about giving back to the game and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”
The Aussie veteran’s fighting return into the test team after two years in cricketing abyss culminated in twin SCG tons during the recent Ashes series, booking his ticket to Pakistan in the 18-man squad.
It comes at the perfect time for Khawaja, who has already played plenty of international cricket in the sub-continent. He’ll now likely get the chance to put the baggy green on in the most important frontier of his cricketing passport.
“One thing I’ve always wanted to do is play in Pakistan,” he said.
“I’ve played in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, all over the subcontinent, but one thing I haven’t done is play in Pakistan – I have family in Karachi and all over Pakistan, so it’ll be great to tick that off.
“There’s a lot of positives for not just myself, but for everyone going on that tour.”
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But it’s not all sentimentality for Khawaja. The Queensland captain understands how quickly cricket can move to dethrone players who feel on top of the world, and is adamant he won’t let his test match rebirth get to his head.
The Pakistanis are coming off a remarkable year of international cricket in all formats, and have many factors that give them a massive chance of winning their comeback home tour.
With the likes of Shaheen Shah Afridi being one of the best fast bowlers in the world, and the spin of Yasir Shah always a danger, Khawaja believes his preparation for the series will come down to the unpredictability of the mysterious Pakistan pitches.
“It’s a challenge for everyone because no one has played in Pakistan in such a long time,” Khawaja said.
“We don’t know what the wickets will do, whether they’ll favour the spin or fast bowling. Preparation will be different – we’ll have a lot less lead up time than in other overseas tours.”
“The biggest variable in our game is the wicket – we don’t know what it’ll be like. We’re going to have to adapt pretty well to beat them over there.”
The tour will be the first without former head coach Justin Langer.
Despite having public disagreements with Langer, Khawaja couldn’t help but feel sympathy for Langer as a person.
“I feel for the man himself because I’ve got along with Justin a long time,” Khawaja said.
“I love the bloke, he’s a legend. On a personal level, if I get dropped or he isn’t the Australian coach, then we still have that relationship. On a human level, 100 per cent I feel for him.”
But just because Langer won’t be at the helm in Pakistan after an incredibly successful last 12 months as head coach doesn’t mean the test team will suffer.
Khawaja is confident the Aussies will have a seamless transition into Andrew McDonald’s interim period as coach. With “a lot of good people” still around in the test camp, the veteran is turning his eyes away from the controversy and solely towards a sentimental trip back home for a milestone test series.
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