Darwin, Australia: Captain Steve Smith on Friday backed Usman Khawaja to return to the Australian team for this month’s two-Test series in Bangladesh.
Smith, speaking ahead of the team’s departure to Dhaka, said left-hander Khawaja was a key player for the Ashes series against England later this year and needed to work his way back into the pivotal No.3 batting position.
Pakistan-born Khawaja has not played Test cricket for seven months, but Smith gave a strong indication he would play in the series opener against Bangladesh from August 27.
‘I think Usman’s going to be a really big player for us this summer,’ Smith told reporters after a week’s training camp in Darwin.
‘He’s done incredibly well in Australia over the last couple of years and it would be good for him to (play) some cricket.
‘He’s chomping at the bit to get out there and I daresay he’ll get his opportunity.’
Khawaja passed 50 in all six home Tests against South Africa and Pakistan last Australian summer, but was dropped for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy series in India.
His axing was ostensibly due to a disappointing showing in two Tests in Sri Lanka last year, during which he was also dropped for the final match after scores of 26, 18, 11 and 0.
Smith suggested Khawaja’s likely return would see the skipper stay at No.4, where he averages 75.29 from 18 Tests, with seven hundreds.
‘I’d say if Usman plays he’ll probably bat three and I’ll slot in at four,’ Smith said.
‘I see Usman as more of a top-order batsman and I don’t really have a big issue, whether it’s three or four—I won’t go lower than that.’
If selectors again overlook Khawaja, they have the alternative option of keeping Hilton Cartwright at No.6 and moving Smith up to No.3 in the batting order, with Peter Handscomb and Glenn Maxwell coming in at four and five.
The Australians are facing Bangladesh for the first time in more than 11 years.
Australia were to play two Tests in Bangladesh in October 2015 but the tour was cancelled after a wave of attacks by Islamist extremists in the Muslim-majority nation.
‘They’re a very good side in their own conditions and they’re going to be very challenging,’ Smith said.
‘It will be great for us to get some game time there and play in those conditions, and see what we’ve learnt from India.
‘Hopefully, the guys have learnt a lot, and we’re able to take that into this tour and have a really successful one.’
The tour to Bangladesh was again threatened, but this time by Australia’s bruising and protracted pay dispute.
The row was finally resolved earlier this month with players and management agreeing on a new ‘in-principle’ revenue-sharing deal.
Some 230 cricketers had been unemployed since the end of June when their contracts expired, putting the Bangladesh Test tour under serious threat.
The first Test is at Dhaka’s Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium from August 27. The second starts in Chittagong on September 4.
Australia-Steve Smith (capt), David Warner, Ashton Agar, Jackson Bird, Hilton Cartwright, Pat Cummins, Peter Handscomb, Josh Hazlewood, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, Glenn Maxwell, Matthew Renshaw, Mitchell Swepson, Matthew Wade.- AFP