‘There needs to be stability’: Why Khawaja will understand if he doesn’t play in Hobart

Usman Khawaja’s maturity was evident not only in his batting at the SCG, but also in his response to questions about whether he should be retained for the final Ashes Test in Hobart this week.

Continuity has been a buzzword for new selection chair George Bailey, and it is clearly something Khawaja wished he had seen earlier in his international career.

Usman Khawaja and Marcus Harris have duelled for a spot before – during the 2019 Ashes tour.Credit:Getty Images

On numerous occasions, Khawaja has been discarded with what he considered undue haste. In 2011 he twice played three Tests in a row and then got dropped. On the 2013 Ashes tour, Khawaja again played three games before being dumped.

Most contentiously, Khawaja seemed to make a spot his own with a dominant 2015-16 home season, only to be dropped after two Tests on a difficult tour of Sri Lanka. Complaining he and Joe Burns felt they had been made “scapegoats” for a pair of defeats, Khawaja returned at home, only to lose his place for the 2017 India tour and then be dropped again after one game in Bangladesh later the same year.

By the time of the 2019 Ashes series, when he was omitted after three matches at a time when all Australia’s left-handers were struggling, Khawaja had an enormous amount of scar tissue built up from experiences of being discarded.

Add up all these episodes and there’s little wonder why he spoke as he did amid the euphoria of the SCG and those twin centuries to remember.

“Talking to George Bailey and the selectors about continuity, I’m not totally against that process, either,” he said. “Throughout my career a lot of changes were made, and I was on the wrong side of them a few times.

“I’m the first to say there needs to be stability. I know how hard it is for a cricketer chopping and changing. I actually like the process the selectors have been taking.”

Whether that means Marcus Harris keeps his place at the top of the order is debatable, and is doubtless a source of discussion for selectors this week. Tony Dodemaide, who joined the panel at the start of the season, is clear that Bailey has tried to bring empathy to the table.

“I really like that approach,” he said. “George is, I think, a fantastic chair of selectors. I’ve really enjoyed working with him to date, and I really think that is an outstanding way to go. I mean, he’s played with a lot of the players in there, they know him from being a teammate and an opponent over the past few years, but also that he is so open with all the players, and that perhaps hasn’t been the case, previously, for maybe a number of reasons.

“Culturally, I guess there was always a separation between the selectors and the players, and probably from the selectors’ point of view as well. It’s only very recently that you know, along with the coach, that the other selectors, George and myself, are full-time anyway, so we’ve got the time to be able to put in, to not just pick the teams and go through the depth of information that we need to, but also to have that time to communicate directly with players.

“I did note those [Khawaja] comments as well. And I think it does give players confidence when they know where they stand. Sure, there’ll be disappointments as well, that’s the nature of the game. But I think it’s definitely the way to go.”

“I’m the first to say there needs to be stability. I know how hard it is for a cricketer chopping and changing. I actually like the process the selectors have been taking.”

In terms of Harris – who has continually shown just enough to keep the selectors interested without yet blooming into the sorts of scores put up by Khawaja in Sydney – the key may well be communication. Advice along the lines that he remains very much in the team’s plans but has been momentarily overtaken by a teammate in rare form would strike a balance between reality and empathy.

“There is a lot of conversations to be had over the next couple of days. It’s a very difficult one,” Dodemaide said. “I think what we also remember, too, is only a week or a week and a half ago, behind Sydney, where Marcus probably played the most consequential innings of the game in Melbourne, and certainly set up that 270-odd for Australia, which won us the game.

“So it’s always a balance. It’s very different batting at the top of the list, compared to batting at five. And Uzzie said that, himself. So there’s certainly some challenging conversations for us over the next 48 hours or so.”

At least, as Khawaja outlined, those conversations will have a sound philosophical base.

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