Thunder player Usman Khawaja during the Melbourne Stars versus Sydney Thunder Big Bash League Final at the MCG in Melbourne, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016.
Thunder player Usman Khawaja during the Melbourne Stars versus Sydney Thunder Big Bash League Final at the MCG in Melbourne, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016. AAP Image - Mal Fairclough

Australia calls in Khawaja for batting artillery

AUSTRALIA'S most in-form batsman, Usman Khawaja, will fly into Auckland tomorrow to join the ODI squad for the three-game series against New Zealand.

Khawaja, a hugely controversial omission from the original squad, has benefited from luckless T20 captain Aaron Finch damaging a hamstring when he was run out in Friday night's T20 beating from India in Melbourne. Finch must now sweat on being ready for the world T20 in India in March.

When Khawaja missed the original ODI selection, it prompted an outcry. Now, Finch's misfortune has opened an unexpected door for the classy left-hander.

Consider in his four Big Bash League innings for champions Sydney Thunder, Khawaja hit two hundreds and two fifties in making 345 runs at 172, with a strike rate of 163, and that's after three test centuries against New Zealand and West Indies.

Chairman of selectors Rod Marsh bizarrely remarked after confirming Khawaja had been overlooked for the ODI squad that he would "know how Shaun Marsh felt", referring to that batsman's battles to fight his way into the test side despite strong performances.

Fellow selector Mark Waugh added that Khawaja was batting better than the great West Indian Brian Lara.

A handful of Australian players arrived in Auckland yesterday, including captain Steve Smith, ahead of the main contingent tomorrow, to prepare for the series opener at Eden Park on Wednesday.

Australia's away record in recent years is not particularly flash and their captain, Steve Smith, is determined to rectify that.

Wicketkeeper-batsman Matthew Wade said he hoped conditions in New Zealand, being not too dissimilar from back home, would help that ambition. "We haven't really spoken about it, but all teams' records away from home are a lot worse than at home. We're a very good team at home but we're looking to win every game on the road. When you go to places like India it's even more challenging."

Wade has not been to New Zealand before, and in 95 internationals has played New Zealand just once, in an ODI in Birmingham in 2013.

He said he had heard tales of the New Zealand crowds being generous with their advice for visiting players.

"I've heard the crowds are like ours, flipping it around on us. They say the atmosphere at the grounds here is really good so I'll be looking forward to it all coming to life."

As for the sparky opener David Warner, who has the knack of drawing reactions from crowds, Wade laid off. "I don't know what Davie's going to do. He's mellowed out a bit so I think he'll be pretty chilled."

The Australian squad for the world T20 in India in March will be named during the ODI series - New Zealand's squad is expected to be announced tomorrow or Tuesday.

"Any good performance in international cricket leading into the T20 World Cup will do you favours to get picked. Some of the younger guys who have played international cricket for us in the last four or five games have put their hand up," Wade said.

- Herald on Sunday



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