Khawaja off against spin

24th November 2017 5:54 PM
GOT HIM: Usman Khawaja is out again to off-spin, leg before to Moeen Ali (centre). GOT HIM: Usman Khawaja is out again to off-spin, leg before to Moeen Ali (centre). DAVE HUNT

CRICKET: No prizes for guessing what's on the menu for Usman Khawaja in every pressurised innings he plays in this Ashes summer.

For the 13th time in his Test career Khawaja fell to off-spin, lbw to Moeen Ali who was brought on early with Khawaja on his mind.

Khawaja has fallen to spin 17 times in Tests, almost half his 39 dismissals, a statistic that confounds and confuses the national selectors who are not sure what to make of his two-toned career.

This Gabba wicket has taken more turn than any Brisbane wicket in memory and that has only served to enhance the venom of balls that don't turn at all as batsmen get the two varieties mixed up.

Maybe it was the old thimble-and-pea trick or maybe just natural variation in the deck, but Khawaja played for substantial turn when there was only a spoonful and was on his way.

The ball before he played and missed at one that did turn, so he was done by the one-two punch in an innings that cemented his status as Australia's great batting enigma.

Born in Pakistan, his game can display the subtle wrist work that is the key weapon for many subcontinental batsmen.

The logical extension of this would be for him to be a crack player of spin, but pace is his strength.

Spin is his poison to the point where he would probably not get a game for Australia in the country of his birth.

His wrists are fine; his feet seem the problem. At least getting them moving against the slow-pitched ball.

Straight (ish) balls like the one produced by Ali test him far more than any bouncer from a quicks.

His career is so unusual that he is the only batsmen dropped and effectively recalled in the one conversation - with selectors informing him when he was dropped recently in Bangladesh that he was all but certain to be recalled for this Test.

Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer and Damien Martyn are among Australian batsmen who finished their careers far better players of spin that what they started it, but it was only through sweat toil and ruthless self-analysis that they got there.

The challenge for Khawaja is now to do the same.

Australia finished the second day 4-165 after skipper Steve Smith dug his team out of a huge hole, alongside the recalled Shaun Marsh.

Smith finished unbeaten on 64 with Marsh not out 44 with the pair compiling a fifth-wicket partnership of 89.

England's bowlers had Australia struggling at 4-76 with debutant Cameron Bancroft (5) and Khawaja (11) dismissed cheaply before Jake Ball landed the hammer blow, dismissing David Warner for 26.

Peter Handscomb was then caught LBW by James Anderson for 14 before Marsh and Smith joined together.

It left the Test finely poised again after earlier England collapsed to 302 all out.

Australia owned the first session of play, as Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon combined to trigger a stunning collapse as England capitulated in losing their final six

wickets for 56 with Starc (3-77), Lyon (2-78) and Pat Cummins (3-85) running rampant.