On plenty of South Asian tours, Australian players can become exemplars of the thousand-yard stare, brought on by hard-turning wickets and wily spin bowlers who quickly scrambled best-laid plans.
Steve Waugh and Dean Jones (Pakistan 1988), Justin Langer (Sri Lanka 1999), Ricky Ponting (India 2001), Adam Voges (Sri Lanka 2016). Just a few of the storied Australian batters who have endured horror tours in these parts.
Until this match, Usman Khawaja too had experienced similar moments, twice touring Sri Lanka without passing 26 in a Test innings here.
But he, Cameron Green, Alex Carey and late on, captain Pat Cummins, all contributed to one of the most proactive Australian innings on a spinner’s pitch anywhere. Constantly harried by dancing feet, hard reverse and orthodox sweeps, or deft deflections for singles, Sri Lanka’s bowlers did not bowl a single scoreless over all day.
For Khawaja, it was vindication of the team approach he and other players had been hoping for over several years. Essentially, that individual players will be backed to form their own plans, and then left to persist with them even if they do not work out immediately.
As far as success in Asia is concerned, Khawaja said a lot of Australian coaching orthodoxy was “bull crap” next to the reality. “The way the guys have played and how we talk about the game and playing in the subcontinent’s changed a lot since I started playing for the Australian cricket team,” he said.
“I think we’ve learned from mistakes, I think guys are more trusting of their plans and able to adapt to different situations and bowling, and bat very differently from the way we do in Australia. When you see someone like Carey come in and sweep, even me as a youngster, the amount of times growing up I got told not to sweep the ball in Australia, it was every second coach telling me.
“Even Greeny doing it now, the amount of times I’ve heard people say ‘you’re a tall bloke, just hit down the ground’, it’s just the biggest bull crap in the world. If a player has the ability to sweep, whether he’s six foot seven or five foot five it doesn’t really matter, it’s still a shot in your repertoire. It’s actually even more potent when a taller person does it, as we’ve seen Matthew Hayden do in the past.”