The Queensland batsman, Usman Khawaja has had his share of watching the game from the dug-out. During Australia’s tour of India, Khawaja played the role of the 12th man, which becomes frustrating after a point of time and specially when the tour is four months long and that too in a sub-continent.
The same thing happened in the Indian Premier League when Khawaja in hope of grabbing a place in Pune’s playing XI was left with the responsibilities of carrying spare bats, offering water bottles during drinks break, running with extra gloves for batsmen and much more. He last played a one-day match against Pakistan in Sydney on January 22.
“I was sure I was going to get a game in the IPL later on (in the season) because I knew a few guys were leaving,” Khawaja told cricket.com.au.
“I talked to ‘Flem’ (Pune coach Stephen Fleming) too and he was like, ‘Just stay ready. These guys are leaving, later on, anything can happen. Stay ready because you’re likely going to play later on’.
“I stayed ready but the way it worked out we were playing really well and winning games with the team we had. “Just with the balance of the side and our overseas players, we needed more bowling stocks in our team than batting stocks.
“We had some really good Indian players batting really well – (MS) Dhoni, Manoj Tiwary was playing really well – we had ‘Smudger’ (captain Steve Smith) batting up the top there and (Ajinkya) Rahane opening the batting with Rahul Tripathi, another youngster you came out of nowhere batting beautifully. It was disappointing not to play but it was really good to be part of a winning side.”
Khawaja has spent maximum time on the boundaries of Indian cricket grounds making him feel like a ground’s infrastructure expert. In 2013, he was selected for Australia’s 2013 Test squad but didn’t play a single match due to suspension. He featured for Australia A against India in 2015 and also in World T20 last year. The Australian teammates had started asking about certain facilities in various grounds where Khawaja used to be their go-to guy. “There’s been a lot of drink carrying in India,” he said.
“I was laughing with (Pune teammate Adam) Zampa because he wasn’t playing a lot of the IPL too. We were doing gym sessions on match days and he was always asking where the gyms were at each venue. We got to another venue and I’d point out the gym. Another venue, same thing. He asked me how I knew where all the gyms were and I told him ‘I know where every gym in India is – match days I’m in there a lot’.”
Khawaja used to spend time in nets, work on his game in best possible ways but the progress got limited while performing only in the nets but not being able to play matches.
“I feel it’s really hard to improve as a cricketer in the nets,” Khawaja explained.
“You can work on specific areas, which I did when I was over there as I always do, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to be playing cricket games to test yourself and put yourself under a bit of pressure. I’ve never been a big one for hitting a million balls in the nets because I like to balance it with game time.
“So if you’re hitting lots of balls in the nets you want to be hitting lots of balls in the game and then you know you’re doing something right. It’s tough in that regard. I got a bit of batting time which is nice because there’s lots of little Indian net bowlers that want to bowl. I had a bit of fun trying to slog them around. You always try to maximize playing or training time because you might not get any later on when you start playing again.”
Thankfully, some good news filled Khawaja with expectations when he was named the captain of Australia A’s four-day squad to tour South Africa in July. Where he’ll try his best to perform for Australia A and it will help him to already book a spot in Australia’s Test playing XI who will tour South Africa in February.
“I’m looking forward to playing cricket, but it’s always tough, I’ve been away for so long,” he said.
“There are a Test series in South Africa (in 2018) and hopefully I’m a part of that. To get a bit of time in South Africa and playing in those conditions wouldn’t hurt. And just to get a bit of cricket time, that would be nice. There’s a lot of time between now and then so we’ll see what happens.
“I’m a standby for the Champions Trophy but if something happens in that region I’ve got to get ready for that. For me it’s just about trying to keep my head down, trying to play some cricket and not worrying too much about what else happens. “All the chats I’ve had with selectors have been very positive. I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing and not change too much.”
Whatever will be the situation, Khawaja is no more planning to carry drinks anytime soon.
“I don’t really rate my waterboy skills actually,” Khawaja said. “It’s not something you want to be good at either. It was a bit easier in the IPL because we had a million guys helping out, I didn’t have to do too much at all. When you’re in the Test side you just want to help the guys as best you can, whatever they might need. I know what it’s like when I’m playing, the stuff you take for granted that the 12th men do, you don’t even think about it. It’s not an easy role but it does help towards the team for the greater good.”
Having performed the role of 12th man admirably for more than 100 days on the road, Khawaja said there is one teammate that kept him busy more than others. “I reckon I change my gloves once every session, max,” he said. “People probably line up to be my glove runner because they’d have a very easy life. ‘Smudger’, he changed his gloves after two overs in the last Test in Dharamsala. He went in there, he played the next over, and then he changed his gloves. It wasn’t even two overs I reckon. It was unbelievable, I’ve never seen anything like it. He averages 60 in Test cricket, maybe there’s something to it.”
“People probably line up to be my glove runner because they’d have a very easy life. ‘Smudger’, he changed his gloves after two overs in the last Test in Dharamsala. He went in there, he played the next over, and then he changed his gloves. It wasn’t even two overs I reckon. It was unbelievable, I’ve never seen anything like it. He averages 60 in Test cricket, maybe there’s something to it.”, Khawaja concluded.