Ponting backs Khawaja to get over 'subcontinental problems'

Former Australian captain Ricky Ponting has backed Usman Khawaja, the current number three batsman, to overcome his perennial Asian problems even as Australia embark on a two-Test series against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Calling Khawaja as Australia’s “best batsman by a street”, the former number three believes that the Queenslander can overcome his issues and lead by example as a depleted batting line-up looks to overcome Pakistan in their home conditions.

Australia’s series against Pakistan will be their first Test series since the ‘sandpaper fiasco’ during the South Africa Tests, which ended with the then captain Steven Smith, his deputy David Warner and Cameron Bancroft, all being handed suspensions by Cricket Australia (CA). With plenty of firepower missing in the batting line-up, Ponting reckons that the experience of Khawaja will come in handy as Australia begin a new era.

“There’s been lots of different discussions over the last couple of years about Khawaja and how to get the best out of him,” Ponting told cricket.com.au, on Friday (September 14). “(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.

Having played 33 Tests, Khawaja has a decent average of 42, but it’s obscured by the fact that most of his runs have come in home conditions, where he averages a mighty 59.38 from 18 Tests. Cut to the sub-continent, he has scored only 117 runs at a pitiful average of 14.62, with the highest score of 26. Often harassed by spin, Khawaja is yet to convince in sub-continental conditions, although he will travel to UAE with some good batting form, having scored a century for Australia ‘A’ during the recent tour to India.

Ponting, who himself struggled to master conditions in the subcontinent, is sympathetic towards the southpaw and believes that the 31-year-old has the game to succeed in such conditions. “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, 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 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 further added.

The former Australian captain was also convinced about the selection of Victorian left-arm spinner Jon Holland and tipped him to be a part of what could be captain Tim Paine’s two-spin strategy, along with off-spinner, Nathan Lyon.

“It’s a no-brainer to me – Jon Holland without thinking twice,” he said when asked who amongst Holland and Ashton Agar should partner Nathan Lyon. “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,” Ponting signed off.

Australia begin their UAE sojourn with a four-day practice game against Pakistan A before the first Test starts on October 7th at Dubai International Cricket Stadium.

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