Usman Khawaja insists he is a different batter with more options against spinners in Sri Lanka now as he attempts to break his cursed run in the country.
Dropped during both his previous tours of Sri Lanka, Khawaja returns as a settled member of Australia’s top order after four centuries in five Tests.
Khawaja, however, has never had such success in Sri Lanka, where he has scored just 115 Test runs at an average of 19.16 through seven innings.
He was squeezed out on Ricky Ponting’s return in 2011 despite scoring a hundred in a warm-up game, and was dropped again after two Tests of the 2016 tour.
The 35-year-old admits that most recent visit was mentally tough, with Australia beaten 3-0 in the Test series and Khawaja also battling throughout the ensuing white-ball matches.
Until that point, those four Tests in Sri Lanka and one similar long-form disappointment in Bangladesh had been Khawaja’s only games in Asia, as he acquired an unwanted reputation as a home-Test specialist.
However, in his five Asian fixtures since, Khawaja has scored 725 runs at 120.83, earning the record of Australia’s best bat on spinning wickets in the UAE in 2018 and on flatter surfaces in Pakistan earlier this year.
“I just have a lot more shots now to spin than I did back then,” Khawaja said.
“I use my crease better, I score different parts of the ground. It’s just about trying to make the best decisions now.
“I felt like I was a very good player of spinners in 2015 back in Australia. But overseas I still struggled, I just didn’t have enough options.”
Australia on Sunday had their first look at a Galle wicket which appeared typically dry and ready to turn three days out from the match.
Part of Khawaja’s approach on that wicket will centre on attacking off the back foot, with a focus on sweeping and reverse-sweeping more than at home.
Australia will make a clear point to not let spinners settle in both Tests in Galle, after being destroyed by Rangana Herath in the 2016 rout.
But the other part of Khawaja’s game is his improved back-foot play, after utilising it far more in Pakistan.
“In Australia you are taught to go forward, forward, forward. I had to learn how to play off the back foot,” Khawaja said.
“So now I can play off the front and back. It changes to the bowler. One offspinner to the next.
“(With) Nathan Lyon, it is harder to go off the back foot, because he is a lot faster through the air with the bounce, where some others might be a bit slower. It’s just a feel thing.”