How Usman Khawaja Saved The Aussie Summer
He didn't just save a cricket Test.
With his epic 141 to help Australia draw the first Test with Pakistan in Dubai overnight, Usman Khawaja achieved something many thought impossible in the short term.
He made us love cricket again.
Cricket, or at least the men's version of it, has been on the nose ever since the the exile of Steve Smith and Dave Warner for ball tampering. Talk to your average cricket fan and you'd get a shoulder shrug or a "meh" or even a straight-out "nope" when asked if they were looking forward to the upcoming summer of home Tests against India.
The ball tampering scandal did more than embarrass Australian cricket fans. It actively turned us off the game. Our love of sport runs deep but even the deepest well can be poisoned.
When Australia started this Test so badly -- losing 10 first innings wickets for 60 after a good start, in pursuit of a mammoth Pakistani first innings total -- it was pretty tempting to stay tuned out.
Enter Usman Khawaja.
It is now seven years since the elegant left-hander was first picked for Australia. In that time, he had previously notched six Test centuries and maintained a respectable batting average in the 40s, yet never quite cemented his place in either the team or the hearts of the average fan.
And of course, there was his problem with spin. Though born in the Pakistani capital Islamabad, the 31-year-old had struggled on Asian pitches. Indeed, previous Aussie coach Darren Lehmann dropped him four times from the team, mostly on tours of Sri Lanka, India or Bangladesh.
But Khawaja never stopped honing his technique. Before this series, He worked hard on smothering the spin with sweep shots, and on playing more decisively.
We all saw the results here in Dubai. A not entirely convincing first innings top-score of 85 was followed by a knock of 141 that had all the grit, determination and physical and mental resilience of any innings Allan Border or Steve Waugh or Dean Jones ever played on the the sub-continent.
And when Khawaja celebrated his century, it felt so much more meaningful than a Dave Warner leap. That's not to deride Warner and his 21 Test centuries, but his celebrations have sort of become Dave Makes 100™.
Khawaja's joy was real, and it was hard-earned, in conditions that ironically were also 100 -- of the old degrees, or about 38c.
Credit must also go to Aussie captain Tim Paine, who played a classic captain's knock after Khawaja fell. Without his 61 off 194 balls and nearly four hours of concentration in the searing heat, Usmans efforts would have been in vain.
Thus did Australia salvage a draw from the extremely wide, gaping jaws of defeat. To see the Aussies celebrating afterwards was to understand how much it meant.
And with the love the team is getting on social media and elsewhere overnight, you sense it means much for the summer ahead too. Suddenly, this is a team to love again. The line-up will need tweaking, and there are still issue over the form of the brothers Marsh and others.
But thanks to Khawaja, Paine and the steely-eyed approach of new coach Justin Langer, cricket has captured our souls again. Whether it captures our wallets and eyes over summer is still no given, but we're heading in the right direction.