‘Zen’ Usman Khawaja Defies Naysayers in Record 422-ball 180-run Knock

It was first over after Tea and Axar Patel was on top of his mark to bowl to Usman Khawaja – the rock of the Test so far. The breaks are notorious for making things happen on days when nothing seems to go the bowler’s way.

Friday was turning out to be another long day under the sun for the hosts as Khawaja continued to frustrate India with a rock-solid approach. India tried everything – every angle, every bowler, different fields, different lines and lengths but nothing affected the southpaw.

Ironically, he got out playing a shot he had played with impeccable control right through the marathon 422-ball 180. On the first ball after the break, the left-hander went deep into his crease, just like had been doing all day, opened up the stance with his right leg moving further behind and looked to tuck it away towards the leg-side region. Instead, He failed to put the bat to the ball, there was a loud shout, the umpire wasn’t interested but DRS came to India’s rescue.

81 of the 180 runs Khawaja scored came between the fine-leg and square-leg region. Not all were the whips off the pads/hips, but most were. 13 of the 21 boundaries hit were in the same region too and it was clearly the comfortable scoring option right through the knock. Not once did he look out-of-sorts and got into brilliant positions while playing it and used his supple wrists to keep varying the direction and angles.

An unfortunate end to one of the finest innings played in India but an exemplary exhibition of building and extending a knock. Not once did he look to change his game or get carried away by what was happening at the other end. During the stand with Cameron Green (114), where the right-hander smashed 18 boundaries, Khawaja was happy to stick to his methods and was clearly making up for the time spent carrying drinks on previous tours to India.

Number cruncher

Khawaja’s 422-ball essay was the longest Test innings by an Australian against India, in India. He went past Graham Wallop’s 392-ball 167 back in 1979 and Steve Smith’s 361-ball 178* in the 2017 series.

After spending 10 hours and 11 minutes in the middle, he also moved to the second spot in the longest time spent by a visiting batter in this part of the world. Pakistan great Younis Khan heads the list with his 267 against India in the 2005 fixture in Bangalore. The classy right-hander had batted for 11 hours and 30 minutes.

In the last ten years, only Cheteshwar Pujara has faced more deliveries than Usman Khawaja did over the last two days. India’s No.3 had faced 525 balls during his 202 in the 2017 home series against Australia. Quite an achievement for a player who wasn’t considered fit for these conditions.

Zen mode

Throughout his innings, Khawaja was in zen mode. He rarely played a false shot, enjoyed a control percentage in the 90s and didn’t fall to temptation. Even as Indian spinners tossed up deliveries as clear bait.

“I just put my ego away, a few times they brought mid-on and mid-off up I really wanted to hit them back over their heads like I normally do, but I thought I’d just keep grinding away and see how far we get,” Khawaja said after Day 1.

There was an occasional smile here and there during chatter with the opposition or his batting partner but not once did he lose focus and was at it. Ball after ball, over after over, session after session. The emotions, however, ran high when he completed his hundred on Thursday evening and then the 150 today.

“It’s just nice to go out there and tick off a hundred in India which was something if you asked me five years ago if you told me that I’d think you were crazy. There was a lot of emotion, I just never expected this to happen,” said Khawaja on Thursday.

Khawaja can play spin

For a player who was told, repeatedly, that he “couldn’t play spin”, Khawaja has made a strong statement with his recent outings in Asia. In the 16 innings, he has hit three hundreds and five fifties and averages upwards of 75.

Even in the current series against India, where the first three games were played on raging turners, Khawaja looked one of the best in the middle, from either team. Nagpur saw twin failures but he followed the disappointment with two brilliant hands in Delhi and Indore respectively.

The 81 in the second Test set him apart from the rest and the 60-run knock on a very challenging Indore surface assured he has figured a method and clearly found his way in these conditions.

Every batter would get an opportunity to end the series on a high in batting-friendly conditions at Motera but will they have the patience, composure and control exhibited by Khawaja in the epic? We will surely find out in a couple of days’ time.

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