Troubled past against spin doesn't make future tense for Khawaja

Usman Khawaja plays a fine reverse sweep Getty Images

Usman Khawaja's two dismissals in the quadrangular series prior to Monday bothered him. Against India A, he was squared up against pace - visibly his stronger suit - and caught in the slips. Against South Africa A, he was run out after not grounding his bat in time. Ironic, given that only a week earlier, he'd spoken of how losing seven kilos had improved his mobility.

For an international who is looked at as being key to Australia's immediate batting future, these weren't the best endorsements. But he banished those thoughts on Monday to make an unbeaten 101 that contributed towards Australia A securing a stunning last-ball win to qualify for the final.

Khawaja needs no reminder that Asia isn't a batting stronghold for him - he averages 14.62 in nine Test innings here. For him, however, that's a thing of the past. Instead of brooding over those failures, Khawaja wants to derive confidence from Monday's knock and sustain this form leading into the final and the two four-day Tests against a strong India A side.

One of the perceptions about Khawaja in the subcontinent is that he looks to hang back and play from the crease, often resulting in problems against spin. In the first two matches on tour in India, he didn't last long enough to play spin, but there was a noticeable change on Monday, marked by a decisive initial movement - either fully forward or back. There were pockets where he was troubled - he even survived a top-edged sweep - but he was largely comfortable, not something that could have been said of the other top-order batsmen in the match.

That he batted all through the chase was a byproduct of improved fitness. For Khawaja, that was the first sign of the work done in the last four months paying off. "A majority of the sprinting and running had to be done right at the end, which was tough but I felt good," Khawaja said. "It's rare for an opening batsman to be there right till the end. The hamstring has always been a thing for me since I [injured] my ACL. It has taken me three years to start feeling good again. Touch wood, everything is going well now."

Rahul Dravid, who kept chatting with Khawaja by the boundary every time he passed him on his walks during the game, has often emphasised that A tours are not about results. However, Khawaja's outlook is the opposite, after being at the receiving end on three tours to these parts. He wants to win games, irrespective of conditions, oppositions or situations.

Khawaja wasn't on the Test tour to India last year, but struggled in Bangladesh where he had scores of 1 and 1 in the only game he played. In 2016, he couldn't make a fifty in four innings in Sri Lanka, but roared back to form immediately on returning home with a 97 his next Test. This pattern has elicited questions over his effectiveness in the subcontinent, but Khawaja isn't worried about perceptions.

For the record, he was Australia A's second-highest run-getter in the one-dayers in India in 2015. His 267 runs in four innings at a strike rate of 89.89 included two half-centuries and a hundred. He chooses to focus on this instead, to believe he can score runs here.

"I just go out and play for Australia to win cricket games, not worrying about the rest, whatever team I'm playing for," he said. "There might be that perception of [spin not suiting his game in the subcontinent] in India, but even when I came last time in Chennai, I was the highest run-getter [second-highest] in the one-dayers. I always like coming over here and playing white-ball cricket because there's value for your shots. Yes, it's a little different because there's a bit more spin involved than back home."

In the seven years since his debut, Khawaja has had a number of setbacks through form and fitness. He's played just 33 Tests. Just to throw some context on how much he's missed out on, David Warner, who debuted a season later, has played 74 Tests, this despite missing a few for disciplinary reasons in 2013. Khawaja believes there were "too many factors" for his inconsistency, but is wiser now.

"I can't point to one or two reasons, there are many (laughs). Early on in my career, I just didn't perform well enough to cement my position in the Test side," he said. "Coming back three-four years ago, it's been a learning experience. I guess I've performed a bit better since then. I have more experience now.

"Cricket is a tough game. No matter who you are, even if you happen to be Don Bradman or anyone else, you are bound to fail. It's about the mental battle. As much a cliche as it is, you have to control what you control. For me it's about going out and enjoying my cricket. The reason I like cricket is because I love playing with team-mates around. I liked individual sports, but I didn't love them."