Khawaja completes career renaissance with Century as Australia takes charge

On Australia’s last tour of India in early 2017, Usman Khawaja was seen as so concerned about spin bowling that he was knocked off his previously secure spot in the XI for all four Tests.

Six years later and the 36-year-old’s pivotal century on Day 1 in Ahmedabad, Australia not only put Australia in a dominating position to end the series 2-2, but also set the exclamation mark on one of the most notable late-career renaissances in recent memory .

On the first racquet-friendly pitch of the series, Khawaja, along with supporting roles from Travis Head (32), Steve Smith (38) and a late blitz from Cameron Green (49 not out), saw Australia falter at 4/255, with a tired India, which faces another day in the heat on Friday and give Anthony Albanese the early right to brag to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the stands of the stadium that bears his name.

Khawaja’s performance told of the change in Australia’s mindset since their catastrophic collapse in the second Test in Delhi, as well as his seismic improvement against the spinning ball: content to have confidence in his defense for a long time and content the pitch offered far fewer demons than in the first three tests of the series, he carved out grueling runs instead of putting them together with his usual languid elegance.

Where once the reverse sweep was his preferred take, now it’s the swipe from the pads to deep back square that clings to anything remotely direct from Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja and makes them pay again and again.

In between, Khawaja’s charge defenses were impregnable, his focus unbroken, and his hunger for runs unrelenting; its reward, perhaps not the best century of his career, but certainly one of if not the most satisfying of them all.

India’s hot day, meanwhile, could be summed up in two atrocious moments within the first six overs: a Steve Harmison-esque Mohammed Shami full-back heading straight for Virat Kohli on the day’s second first-ball slip and, more expensively, a terrible one Drop catch by wicketkeeper KS Bharat to save Head.

At 7 at the time, life seemed to be reviving Head, the South Australian flipping the switch to become the aggressor as he regularly does in the latter stages of this series.

Assisted by ball after ball from Shami and Umesh Yadav spearing his pads, the left-hander conceded with glee, punishing the boundary rope through the middle of the wicket and unleashing a pair of glorious cover drives to boot.

Head’s fun ended at 32 when an attempt to floor Ashwin ended in the safe hands of Jadeja midway; that would also end the flood of runs. 0/61 after 15 overs before heads wicket, just 14 runs would be added from the remaining 14 overs before lunch with the visitors also losing Marnus Labuschagne for 3 after hacking Shami on.

The grind continued after lunch but Khawaja and Smith proved impregnable, their 79-run partnership bringing about the first wicketless session of the series as Jadeja and Ashwin were successfully blunted.

Smith’s defiance ended by his own mistake: instead of hitting Jadeja with a straight forefoot bat like he had done in his 135-ball innings, he attempted to force his way through backfoot cover. The ball continued to slide, found the inside edge and, like Labuschagne before him, messed up the furniture.

Peter Handscomb’s following innings were a clear rift: Shami, authoritative against spin as he was for much of the series, showed his weaknesses in terms of quality pace.

Handscomb stayed behind in the crease and played down the wrong line, expecting an inswing. He thought wrong and lost his stump as punishment.

Suddenly 4/170, and after having seemed unimaginative for most of the day, India felt an opening.

Khawaja, but especially Green, put an end to that. The pair formed an ideal partnership to battle the weary Indians: Khawaja the anvil, Green the hammer.

And hammer he did; ruthless about anything pitched too high, unfolding classic cover drive after classic cover drive, the Western Aussie was also ruthless about anything short, rising to his considerable height to repeatedly and mercilessly punish back sacrifices.

On another day, his breezy 49, probably the most convincing innings of his career to date, would have been the key story: But this was Khawaja’s day, and fittingly, another swipe from his pads to the square boundary in the final brought it up a happy ton.

Usman Khawaja of Australia celebrates his 100th.

Usman Khawaja of Australia celebrates his 100th. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

For much of his career, and indeed his final years in the wilderness, Khawaja seemed certain of ending his time in cricket as an unfulfilled talent.

His century at Ahmedabad, capping his 15 glorious months, now makes it clear that he instead deserves his place among Australia’s modern-day greats. Khawaja completes career renaissance with Century as Australia takes charge

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