Sport

Usman Khawaja has always been destined for greatness, says mentor Bill Anderson

Bill Anderson, the cricket co-ordinator for Sydney grade cricket club Randwick-Petersham, has had a unique position to watch the rise and rise of Usman Khawaja, an immigrant kid from Pakistan who became a fully fledged Australian Test cricketer and who is being hailed by critics as the world's best batsman after a run spree that doesn't look as though it is going to end any time soon.

Anderson, who coached the Balmain and South Sydney rugby league teams form 1980-87 and the NSW cricket team in the '80s, was in charge of Randwick-Petersham's first-grade side when the now 29-year-old left-hander played in the club's under-16 Green Shield team 15 years ago.

More Sport Videos

David Warner wins Allan Border Medal

Australian cricketer David Warner edges out Steve Smith to win cricket's most coveted prize, the Allan Border Medal. Vision: Today Show Nine Network.

"He was 14 and obviously good," Anderson recalls. "We put him in fifth grade, then third grade and as soon as he was out of Green Shield he went into second grade. However, halfway through the season, when he was almost 17, he was in first grade and showed almost immediately that he was a player of quality.

"No matter who he was playing, Usman always looked comfortable at the wicket, never looked out of his depth. Some athletes have a cut-off point, but whenever Usman stepped up in class he looked as though he belonged there."

Tons of fun: Usman Khawaja was unstoppable for the Sydney Thunder.
Tons of fun: Usman Khawaja was unstoppable for the Sydney Thunder. Photo: Getty Images

Anderson does not believe there is a secret to Khawaja's dominance at the crease, saying he is simply fulfilling his destiny, which, he laments, was unfairly side-tracked by the national selectors a few years ago.

"Had he been left in the [Test] team three years ago, rather than chopped and changed, Usman would've been doing then what he is now," Anderson says.

Advertisement

"I feel when players aren't really convinced they're an integral part of the team, they have this sense they're not there to stay and have to do something special. I don't think that's a really good atmosphere for a player to play with that feeling.

"If you get in a side and score a century pretty quickly, you feel like you belong. If your performances are average, I guess you'd have this sense of 'geez, I have to do something or they won't persist with me'. I don't know if Usman felt that or not, but I always said if he had 10 Tests he wouldn't only be one of Australia's best players, but he'd be one of the world's best - and he scored 174 in his 10th Test."

Glory days: Michael Clark and Usman Khawaja before Khawaja's Test debut in 2010.
Glory days: Michael Clark and Usman Khawaja before Khawaja's Test debut in 2010. Photo: Quentin Jones

Anderson describes the batsman who has so far scored six centuries this summer - and been lauded by national selector Mark Waugh as "batting like Brian Lara" against the Melbourne Stars in the BBL final - as an "intelligent kid" who studied aviation at the University of NSW and has "grounded and centred parents" who he is proud to call "close friends".

Anderson says Khawaja possesses a similar mental toughness to the best rugby league players he coached 30 years ago, including Wayne Pearce, who is acknowledged as one of the athletes who pioneered a superior level of fitness in the days when footy was as much about draining schooners at the local pub as it was doing a few laps around the oval for training.

"Some people suffer setbacks and they're not quite as resilient as others," Anderson says. "But Usman is certainly very resilient. Wayne Pearce was mentally tough; he was very strong.

"On any given day, the No.100 tennis player in the world can beat the No.1 ... but they can't do it consistently. They can only do it if the No.1 player is off their game. The reason the super players are super is because they consistently find something within themselves to produce day in, day out.

"Uzzy has that characteristic. He can produce consistently in cricket because he's mentally tough. There are some blokes, no matter whether it is football, cricket or whatever, when the pressure is on they'll disappear. You can't find them because they don't want to make a mistake. Others want to get the ball in their hand, or demand to be put in the middle when the going is tough.

"What separates the really good ones [from the rest] isn't skill - although it's an important factor to get them to that level - the quality that separates the superstars from the rest is their mental toughness and their ability to play under pressure, and Uzzie has that".

Anderson says the great South African all-rounder Jacques Kallis, who played alongside Khawaja in the victorious Sydney Thunder team, was correct when he pinpointed the 29-year-old had an insatiable "hunger" for runs.

"He's hungry for them, but he's made a few minor technical adjustments to his game," Anderson says. "He has a lot of time now when he plays.

"I think his shot selection is superb now. He used to fiddle around a bit around off stump when he went up a level ... At the lower levels of cricket a batsman might get away with it, but at the higher levels if the wickets are a bit green all batsman are a bit susceptible; a new ball, everyone is susceptible.

"He's also introduced a couple of new shots to his game; he scores on both sides of the wicket. Something I like about the way he plays the short form of cricket is he doesn't get too cute with his stroke play. 

"Usman can play conventional shots - he's got the capacity to find spaces other players can't find with conventional shots. He can score on both sides of the wicket and can find spaces behind point, in front of the wicket or can hit over mid-wicket, over cover, he can hit straight. He can find all parts of the ground with conventional stroke play."

Anderson has no doubt that Dave Warner has played an important role in Khawaja not missing a beat since he was recalled from his three years on the Test outer to take strike against New Zealand.

"I have no doubt he feels good about being in the current team because he and David Warner played against each other when they were about 10. 

"Uzzy had just come from Pakistan and the family was living in a little rental property in Paddington. They played against each other and from what he says, Uzzy, who was a quiet kid, would see David, who was like a jack-in-the-box, and ask 'who's this kid?'.

"They got together and would throw a ball up against the wall and they came through the junior rep teams together. Added to that is he knows Steve Smith very well from playing in the NSW team.

"It's worked well, he's at ease with himself, his cricket and also his place in world cricket and that is a great place for an athlete to be."

5 comments