Sport

Australia v New Zealand Test series: Darren Lehmann gave Usman Khawaja confidence to succeed in Australian Test team

Usman Khawaja has credited coach Darren Lehmann for giving him the belief to blossom from the player insecure about his place in the team into the bona fide Test star he is today.

The star left-hander's scintillating run continued on Saturday when he scored his maiden Test century abroad, in arguably his finest performance in the baggy green.

Red hot form: Australia's Usman Khawaja celebrates his century against New Zealand.
Red hot form: Australia's Usman Khawaja celebrates his century against New Zealand. Photo: AP

Khawaja made a string of centuries at home on flat tracks but none of them came in situations anywhere near as pressure-packed as the high-class 65 he made against South Africa's all-star pace attack in 2011.

This ton, however, was as good, if not better, coming on a pitch which when he started on day one was still offering plenty of assistance to the bowlers.

Khawaja has flourished since earning a Test recall at the start of the summer. While his first nine Tests yielded 377 runs at 25, his past five have produced 644 at 128.8.

Much has changed between his early days in the Test side and his latest stint. Khawaja never felt like he truly belonged in the Test side at the start of his career when the likes of Ricky Ponting, Michael Hussey and Michael Clarke were in the team.

With the likes of former NSW teammates Steve Smith, David Warner and Josh Hazlewood all in the dressing room now, it is not too dissimilar from when he started his first-class career.

"I'm not saying that's the reason I've come back and scored runs but it's been nice to come back and see familiar faces," Khawaja said.

"I had fun even before, when I played Test cricket I obviously didn't set the world on fire but it's just been a really relaxed atmosphere.

"It's what you want when you're playing at the highest level. Because there's enough pressure and whatever stuff goes on around it, you just want to get into the best position and best head-space possible.

"It helps that we've played some pretty decent cricket since I've come back, we've won a lot of games which always helps too."

It is commonly accepted within Australian cricket that Lehmann is responsible for creating the relaxed atmosphere in the team since replacing Mickey Arthur in 2013. Khawaja believes Lehmann, who is also a selector, has also helped him relax individually.

"I always felt when I first played for Australia that I was sort of playing for my spot a little bit. I never really felt like I was in the team, felt like I was sort of looking over my shoulder," Khawaja said.

"This time it came around, scored 100 a first game and that sort of relieved the pressure a little bit. But even before I played that first game, Boof sort of had a chat to me and just told me to relax.

"He said I'd get a fair crack at it. So that kind of helped too."

Khawaja said he had always felt like he belonged at Test level but it was not until his maiden century at the Gabba last year that the belief was validated.

"I was like "yeah, there you go", that's the sort of feeling I needed to know I was good enough," Khawaja said.

"When you get that first 100, it's the same in first-class cricket. As much as you may know you're good enough, until you actually do it, it's not the same."