Form of his life: Usman Khawaja plays a shot during the Big Bash League final. Photo: Robert PreziosoKhawaja guides Thunder to BBL titleZampa selected in one-day squad
Jeff Thomson and the late Wally Grout are being inducted into the Australian cricket hall of fame this week. Well, if there was a hall of fame for selection bloopers then there would surely be a new addition as well.
In the grand tradition of head-scratchers from the national panel – and there’s been a couple of humdingers in the past year or so – this is surely up there as an all-time classic.
Usman Khawaja, the hottest batsman on the planet right now, can’t make a 14-man Australian one-day squad? Not even when one of the panel members, Mark Waugh, says on television that he is batting better than Brian Lara? Huh?
For Waugh’s sake, let’s hope he was simply out-voted.
Because leaving Khawaja out of any Australian side at the moment simply makes no sense.
The selectors have banged on about a mantra of always picking the best possible Australian team since time immemorial – or at least since this particular panel took charge in its present form nearly two years ago. They’ve gone on about having runs on the board.
The omission of Khawaja proves that policy is about as solid as Australia’s out-field catching in Sydney on Saturday night.
Let’s go over the numbers, again. Because while they appear not to have made their way onto the selectors’ phone hook-up it’s not as if they have crept up on us.
Try this on for size for your last nine scores, for Australia and for Sydney Thunder: 174, 9 not out, 121, 109 not out, 144, 56 not out, 62, 104 not out and 70. Going slightly further back Khawaja has six hundreds and three fifties in his past 12 innings across all formats.
Stats can be skewed sometimes to suggest someone is in a form slump when he probably isn’t, or vice versa, but there’s no way of twisting those figures to suggest anything other than he is in rare air. And that’s without even mentioning the manner in which he’s made the runs – two centuries in a Test series against proper opposition, New Zealand, and then a succession of tournament-defining innings in the Big Bash that careered Sydney Thunder to the title. That form shouldn’t just edge you into a squad. It should just about make sure the squad is picked around you.
The selectors’ defence was inevitably along the lines of: how do you drop batsmen from a side that just beat India 4-1, and repeatedly blew past 300 along the way?
“We tried our hardest to work him into the side, but we just couldn’t find anyone to drop…because they’re all in fantastic form,” chairman Rod Marsh said in Adelaide on Monday.
“It’s very disappointing for him. He probably should make a phone call to Shaun Marsh and ask him how he felt after being dropped after getting 182.”
No, it’s the chief selector who should have called Shaun Marsh or another player such as Aaron Finch. The message being: As well as you’re travelling, Khawaja can’t be left out.
There is a Sheffield Shield match on between Marsh’s Western Australia and NSW on New Zealand’s South Island at the same time as the ODI series, so he could have been sent there for a hit with the red-ball in foreign conditions in case he is required for either or both of the two Tests next month.
Instead, it’s Khawaja heading back to state cricket for a Shield match for Queensland in Adelaide before joining the Test squad across the ditch.
Aside from the match payments he doesn’t lose that much out of being snubbed for these three one-dayers against New Zealand. He’s still the Test No.3 and as Rod Marsh indicated on Monday he’s likely to be in the World Twenty20 squad, as he must be.
The real losers out of what would otherwise have been a non-eventful team announcement at the tail end of a home summer are the selectors themselves.
The Khawaja decision will only add to suspicions that at least some of the panel members are out of touch, remember they made a hash of last year’s Ashes series with some of their selections and non-selections. Plenty of heads in cricket circles also continue to shake about Rod Marsh’s undeterred sponsorship of Matthew Wade as Australia’s limited-overs wicketkeeper. Marsh said on Monday he was “shocked” when Wade floored a couple of catches in Canberra, one of them more simple than the other. Others in and around the game wouldn’t have been.
Two years ago John Inverarity, at 70, stood down as selection chairman. Perhaps, at 68, it’s time Marsh was replaced by someone like Waugh.
A commentator for Network Ten, at least we know that he’s been watching Khawaja.
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