Khawaja and Burns must play in the first Test

Date: October 21, 2016 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

Australia v West Indies - 2nd Test: Day 1Two weeks from today Australia will embark on what shapes as a very tough summer of Test cricket.

South Africa has arrived in the country on the back of a 5-nil sweep of Australia in the recent ODI series.

The Proteas, somewhat bizarrely, are ranked number five in the world. They are a better side than that indicates and they have a proven recent record in Australia. They will be provide a massive challenge for Australia – even without skipper A B De Villiers – as will Pakistan for the three-Test series that will follow.

Despite having been unable to play at home for over a decade the team climbed to number one in the world a short time ago before being overtaken by India last week.

Australia’s last Test series was a humbling experience – a 3-0 away loss to Sri Lanka. It was a series, given Australia’s record there, it was expected to win.

Is was principally the batting that proved to be the Achilles heel. Two of the main culprits, Joe Burns and Usman Khawaja, after dismal showings in the opening two Tests, were both dropped ahead of the final game.

It was a rapid fall from grace for both men as they failed to come to terms with a trio of spin bowlers who collectively dominated the Australian batsmen. In four innings Burns scored 34 runs at 8.5, while Khawaja made 55 at 13.7.

The pair forfeited their places to Shaun Marsh and Moises Henriques. The latter fared just as poorly with scores of four in each innings. Marsh, on the other hand, cashed in at the top of the order with innings of 130 and 23 in the last Test.

There is very little chance of Henriques being retained for the opening Test against South Africa at the WACA Ground.

Marsh would have been very strongly in the frame had he not suffered a hamstring injury while compiling 70 against Tasmania in the Matador Cup over the weekend. That leaves two holes in the top five.

For mine, Burns and Khawaja should slot straight back into side.

They both showed last summer that they have the ability – mentally and technically – to succeed at Test level on Australian pitches.

Khawaja was one of the undoubted stars of the summer. His 174 at number three in the opening Test against New Zealand at the Gabba oozed class. It also signalled his arrival as a Test batsman. Next start at the WACA Ground he fluently stroked his away to 121.

Injury kept him out of the last Test against the Black Caps and the opening encounter versus West Indies. When he returned to the side at Melbourne he made 144 and 56 before an innings of 140 in Wellington in February.

That knock at the Basin Reserve was Khawaja’s fourth century in six innings while sis six Tests last summer on either side of the Tasman produced 693 runs at 77.0.

While the raw numbers were impressive it was the manner in which he compiled his runs that really told the story. He was fluent, assured and stylish. He looked to have nailed down the number three spot for quite some time to come.

Burns, while not as productive as Khawaja, nonetheless had a breakthrough summer. Centuries in each of the three series last summer were the cornerstone of his eight Test aggregate of 692 runs at 53.2.

He formed a formidable opening partnership with David Warner. In the opening Test of the summer at Brisbane they had opening stands of 161 and 237. In the second innings Burns’ strike rate of 105 bettered Warner (103). The pair shared two other 100-run stands during the summer.

Like Khawaja, Burns appeared to have secured a place for the foreseeable future. However, two Tests into Australia’s next series they were both axed. The turning pitches and the abundance of spin brought them undone. But that was then and this is now.

In six matches in the Matador Cup this season Burns has averaged 40 while Khawaja, having returned from South Africa, scored 38 in his only innings against Victoria over the weekend.

South Africa boasts the best pace attack currently in the world. Headed up by talisman Dale Steyn (416 wickets at 22.2), it also includes Vernon Philander (130 at 22.1), Morne Morkel (242 at 29.3) and exciting 21-year-old firebrand Kagiso Rabada (29 at 24.4).

It is an attack that demands respect. Australia would best show that by recalling two men who showed last summer they are well equipped for the fight.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 20 October 2016, soliciting 30 comments