Having enjoyed fair degree of success in past couple of years, Australia opener Usman Khawaja termed facing the Ravichandran Ashwin-led Indian spin attack as the “hardest challenge” of the four match series beginning in Nagpur on February 9.
The Pakistan-born batter, who arrived in India after his teammates due to a visa delay, will open the batting alongside David Warner. Khawaja has played limited overs cricket in India but will finally get his opportunity in the longest format after being part of the Test squad in 2013 and 2017.
Recently named Australias Test Cricketer of the Year, the southpaw is expected to play a big role in his teams quest to win its first series in India since 2004-05.
“Theres definitely a different feel. There are no guarantees in this game, but at least theres a bit more maturity particularly in the batting, and more maturity in the bowling.
“Weve learnt a lot over the last 10 years, particularly the types of wickets we can get and how we think we can perform and go out and win Test matches out here. It feels like we are in a better spot than before, but its always going to be tough,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald.
Australia opted out of playing a warm-up game ahead of the Test series and instead chose to simulate spin friend conditions near Bengaluru upon their arrival last week.
They clearly see Ashwin as the biggest threat from the opposition, so much so that they got hold of his duplicate as part of their preparation for the high-profile contest.
A team full of left-handers, Australia are working overtime to tackle the Ashwin threat.
“Ashwin is a gun. He is very skilful, he is got a lot of tricky little variations, he uses the crease quite well too. If you asked me the same question when I was younger, I probably wouldnt have been able to answer a lot of things because I didnt really learn about how to face what off-spinners are doing,” said Khawaja.
“But its one of those really good challenges. The wickets going to turn here at some point, whether day one, day three or day four, and he is going to be in the game and bowl a lot of overs. “So its all about figuring out how Im going to play against him, how Im going to score runs against him, what he might do. If you bat a long time against him, hes going to change his game plans against you.
“Hes not the kind of guy wholl do the same thing over and over, hes going to try to work you out.” The visitors are expecting turning pitches in all four games, making the trio of Ashwin, Axar Patel and Ravindra Jadeja more lethal with the new ball. “If its a good wicket, the new ball is probably the easiest time to bat. But as soon as the wicket deteriorates in India and youve got spinners bowling with a new ball, thats probably the hardest time to bat anywhere.
“When we train, the new ball on spinning wickets is always the hardest time. People assume opening the batting is the best time to bat in the subcontinent, it is when its flat, but its not when its spinning when theres so much variation with that new ball. Once it softens up it gets easier to predict what its going to do,” added Khawaja. He also narrated his travails in reaching India. “It was what it was I just wanted to get over there to be honest. Theres a good Sydney flight straight from Sydney to Bangalore and I missed that unfortunately, which sucked.
“It was long, I had to go down to Melbourne and then from Melbourne I got delayed going three hours from Sydney to Melbourne, so it took me five or six hours to get there.
“Then I got delayed again from Melbourne to Delhi by four hours again, so just delays after delays after delays. Still a little bit groggy from the flight. Oh well, Im here now,” he added.
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