The idea of Usman Khawaja handing out advice on how to bat in Asia would once have been laughable but the left-hander has proven to be Australia’s shining light in the UAE.
Australia’s slim hopes of salvaging a draw on day five of the first Test against Pakistan rest heavily with Khawaja, who will resume on 50 alongside debutant Travis Head (34 not out) with the tourists trailing by 326 runs at 3-136.
Concerns about Khawaja’s poor record on turning tracks meant he was overlooked during last year’s Test series in India and dropped after one Test in Bangladesh.
But the Queensland opener top-scored with 85 in the first innings in Dubai and he again dug in grimly in the second dig, surviving a collapse in which Aaron Finch, Shaun Marsh and Mitch Marsh all fell without Australia adding to their score.
With Australia’s batsmen preaching the need to bat for time, Khawaja endured 175 balls in the calamitous first innings and has faced 120 in the second.
The 31-year-old’s changing fortunes are best exemplified by the guidance he provided after Australia lost 10-60 on day three.
Australia’s left-handed batsmen – Khawaja, Head, Shaun Marsh and 12th man Matthew Renshaw – convened with coach Justin Langer in the middle of Dubai International Cricket Stadium after play.
Head revealed Khawaja had provided advice on how best to handle the conditions after offspinner Bilal Asif ran through the left-handers.
“We just spoke with Uz,” Head said.
“He played beautifully, and it was a lot about realising the work we’ve done over the last month – backing our plans, backing the way we’ve been playing.
“We’ve been playing and training extremely well. It was just to go out there, stay nice and relaxed, have a look at the wicket and talk about a few ideas and strategies Usman employed.
“Different guys have got different ways of going about it. So it was about staying calm, enjoying the challenge … being brave and backing your ability.”
The pep-talk appeared to pay dividends for Head, who holed out to Bilal for a duck in the first innings but looked far more settled in the second.
“I didn’t play to my strengths yesterday,” the South Australian said.
“I was probably a little bit too defensive. I’ve worked extremely hard on my forward defence and I was very eager to get out there and grind it out.
“But if the ball is there to be hit, you hit it. That’s what I got taught and that’s how I play my best.”