Pakistan v Australia Test - Men's

'Best batsman by a street': Ponting backs in Khawaja

Test legend gives strong endorsement to Usman Khawaja ahead of Pakistan Test series

Louis Cameron

13 September 2018, 06:02 PM AEST

Ricky Ponting has backed Usman Khawaja to overcome his subcontinental struggles and step up in the absence of Steve Smith and David Warner, labelling the Queenslander Australia’s "best batsman by a street".

Ahead of Australia’s series against Pakistan in the UAE, their first Test tour since the ill-fated South Africa campaign, Khawaja shapes as one of the side's most important players following the suspensions of Smith, Warner and opener Cameron Bancroft.

The stylish left-hander has been a dominant force on home soil, averaging nearly 60 with the bat in Tests in Australia. But he hasn’t been able to shake the perception he's not as adept on turning surfaces having registered 117 runs at 14.62 in nine Test innings in Asia, although he did post a century in India earlier this month during the recent Australia A tour.

It's an issue Ponting understands too well, admitting he too at times doubted his approach to batting on the subcontinent during his own career.

The former Test captain sympathises with Khawaja, who sat on the sidelines during Australia's series in India last year before being axed after a single Test on the Bangladesh tour that followed, and tipped the 31-year-old to find his feet in the UAE.

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"There's been lots of different discussions over the last couple of years about Khawaja and how to get the get the best out of him," Ponting told "(People wonder), 'is he an Australian Test match player only? Do we just not pick him on the subcontinent?'"

"I just think you've got to keep picking him – with Warner and those guys out, he's clearly our best batsman by a street.

"The more he can play in those conditions, the more he'll start to work it out.

"It's difficult. I was a bit the same; the first few tours I had to India, I struggled. But the more I played, the more I learned about how I was going to survive and how I was going to cope. The last couple of tours I had there were some of the best I ever had.

"Someone like Uzzie, he's been in and out, he's played the start of a series over there and got dropped but then been picked as soon as he's got back to Australia.

"I just think he's had a lot of uncertainty about where he's at. I was even a bit surprised that they didn't play him in this last game in India (during the Australia A series). He was over there in India, he'd done well and then they don't play him.

"He's a class player, no doubt about that. The more secure he can probably feel in his own mind, we'll see him get better and better."

Ponting also gave a ringing endorsement to spinner Jon Holland, suggesting it's a "no brainer" for him to play instead of fellow left-armer Ashton Agar, not only in the UAE but potentially beyond when conditions suit a second slow bowler.

Holland was picked as Nathan Lyon's back-up for the South Africa tour ahead of Agar, but the latter was preferred for Australia's most recent Test tour to the subcontinent in Bangladesh last year. Steve O'Keefe also played ahead of Holland in that series.

The 31-year-old Victorian hasn't played for Australia since his Test debut in Sri Lanka in 2016 following an injury to O'Keefe, but has been the Sheffield Shield's leading spinner over the past three seasons with 76 wickets at 22. He also claimed nice scalps in a four-day game for Australia A's in India earlier this month to seal his Test spot.

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But asked who should partner Lyon in the first Test against Pakistan, Ponting said: "It's a no-brainer to me - Jon Holland without thinking twice.

"He has been Australia's second best spinner for some time – whenever he plays for Victoria, he takes wicket after wicket. He's a quality bowler.

"He let himself down a little during those two Test matches he played for Australia in Sri Lanka a couple of years ago. He probably didn't bowl as well as he could have.

"But coming off all the wickets he took in that four-day game in India, he's in good form.

"He's improved his fielding a lot as well and I believe he's lost a lot of weight going through this pre-season going into India.

"If he gets a crack at it now, he's someone who could potentially play for Australia over the next few years in the right conditions."

But Justin Langer told SEN on Wednesday that playing two spinners in the UAE is no certainty, opening up the possibility of Australia playing two of Peter Siddle, Michael Neser and Brendan Doggett alongside Mitchell Starc and Lyon.

While Ponting admitted his confusion over the absence of Glenn Maxwell from the squad, he remains optimistic the players Australia have picked can claim their first Test series win on the subcontinent in seven years.

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"Pakistan have done a very good job over the years,” he said. “No matter who they've played they've been very competitive.

"I'm sure Australia can do a good job whatever team they pick. We have got enough depth around Australian cricket. We're still able to put out very competitive international teams.

"It's going to be a different-looking team with Smith, Warner, Cummins and Hazelwood not being there but I still think we'll be very competitive over there and win the series.

"Australia have got to learn from what they've done over there in the past, but I'm confident they can do well."

Qantas Tour of the UAE

Australia Test squad: Tim Paine (c), Ashton Agar, Brendan Doggett, Aaron Finch, Travis Head, Jon Holland, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitch Marsh, Shaun Marsh, Michael Neser, Matthew Renshaw, Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc

Sep 29 - Oct 2: Tour match v Pak A, Dubai

Oct 7-11: First Test, Dubai

Oct 16-20: Second Test, Abu Dhabi

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