PRASENJIT DEY | 17 MARCH, 2019
The rookie won whereas the pundits were forced to bite the dust.
People would have probably ridiculed you, called you a fool, an idiot and what not, if you had backed Australia to win the series against India that concluded recently. You can't blame people if they did ridicule you as this prediction defied logic. After all, the Indian team had decimated the same team down under a couple of months back. So how can someone sane expect the same Australian team to beat a team like India at their own den, only am insane person, novice or a rookie, who hardly knows how the game works, can say such things, right?
But this is how things turned out to be. The rookie won whereas the pundits were forced to bite the dust. Australia’s 2-0 T20I series win, to start the tour off against India, was termed as an insignificant one as the ODI format was going to be a totally different challenge. But they proved everyone wrong having won that series by a 3-2 margin as well, and at the heart of such an inspiring victory was the least likely candidate, Usman Khawaja, who was struggling for form a month or two back.
He averaged 28.28 in four Tests and 38.00 in three ODIs when India visited Australia back in December. Nothing was going right for him and the Indian bowlers had turned out to be a menace. However, the selectors showed faith in him once again as he showed glimpses of return to form in the Test series against Sri Lanka, in which he scored a century and averaged 56.00.
It was another leap of faith taken by the selectors as the picked him for the tour if India once again.The Usman Khawaja they had always hoped for had never arrived. It seemed to be the same story when he failed to convert his starts having returned with scores of 50 and 38 in Australia’s first two defeats in back to back ODIs. But Australia and Khawaja found their moment of magic, and inspiration, in the third ODI at Ranchi.
A fluent century that followed from Khawaja’s bat had set the base for Australia’s comeback into the series. It was an innings that treated the fans with classy shots all around the ground. His innings provided the spark to a lifeless Australian unit, and they suddenly started looking like a team to fear.
When the caravan moved to Mohali for the fourth ODI, India put on a daunting total of 358/6 riding on Shikhar Dhawan’s brutal knock of 143. Australia in reply had lost skipper Aaron Finch in the very first over for a duck. But Khawaja was still there and continued piling on the runs. It was yet another flawless and fluent knock. He was approaching his century once again but it was cut short this time on 91.
He had to depart but he had set the base for the chase with big hitters like Glenn Maxwell and Ashton Turner to come. Finally, it was Peter Handscomb’s century and Turner’s blitzkrieg of 87 that helped them to an unlikely win. Turner and Handscomb were the stars of the chase but people forgot to acknowledge Khawaja’s contribution in the match. After all, he was the one who maintained the momentum when the Indian bowlers were on song during the initial overs. But that didn't matter to him, the most important thing for him was that the series was now level at 2-2.
It was down to the final ODI at Delhi and Khawaja was determined for yet another long innings. He continued his superb form in this match also as he started from where he left off in Mohali. His innings once again had the orthodox straight drives, those raging cuts, and more importantly those newly honed sweeps and reverse-sweeps that helped him to counter India’s feared spin attack. The result was yet another fluent century that set the base for Australia’s daunting total of 272/9, which proved to be too much for India on a tricky pitch.
And when Australia emerged victorious in the third consecutive match, which in turn helped them in sealing the fate of the series in their favour, it was Usman Khawaja’s tally of 383 runs scored at a scintillating average of 76.60 that stood at the heart of that victory.
Suddenly Australia’s dark days seemed to be over and everyone could see light in the night sky, and the star that shone the brightest was none other than Khawaja himself.
“The feeling is good but never take anything for granted. To be honest I am enjoying the wins. It hurts when you score runs but the team doesn’t win. From the personal point of view it is huge, to be the man of the series,” Khawaja said after he was adjudged the Man of the series.
This was truly a great achievement for him considering that he was not even in the ODI squad around this time last year. Now that he has got the opportunity, he has made every bit of that count.
“I wasn’t in the ODI side this time last year. Really satisfying that I could contribute and take my side to victory,” he added.
Australia lost many things in Cape Town last year. They lost the match against South Africa, two of their most celebrated players, the series afterwards, and most importantly their pride, reputation and the love of their fans. All in all, the ball tampering scandal left a deep scar at the heart of Australian cricket.
But this victory has once again helped them in regaining the trust and love they always used to get, and they can't thank Khawaja enough for it.