(Reuters) – Under-pressure Australia batsman Usman Khawaja is “frustrated” after failing to convert a number of starts in the Ashes series but insists his batting is in a good place as he looks for form in the tour match against Derbyshire.
Khawaja, who will captain Australia in the three-day match while regular skipper Tim Paine takes a break, has failed to score a half-century in the three tests and is averaging 20 in a lean series to date.
The Australia number three is hardly alone in his struggles, with only Steve Smith (126.00), Marnus Labuschagne (71.00) and Travis Head (32.00) averaging above 30.
“I actually feel really good batting,” Khawaja told reporters.
“I just haven’t made any big runs lately, which is obviously frustrating for me and when you look at the team you’d like the top order to score big runs.
“I think we’ve fallen short of that in the top order and I think (England) have, too, in a lot of the games.
“I’m actually getting lots of starts, it’s not like I’m in no man’s territory. The most important thing is to capitalise on the starts, because if you don’t capitalise there are always times when you’re going to get out early.”
England’s rousing victory at Headingley levelled the series at 1-1, raising the stakes ahead of the penultimate test at Old Trafford.
As holders of the urn, Australia need to win only one of the last two tests in Manchester and at The Oval to be sure of retaining the Ashes but the pressure is back on Paine’s side after they let slip a commanding position at Leeds.
Khawaja will open the batting with Marcus Harris, who failed twice in the one-wicket loss at Headingley having replaced the out-of-form Cameron Bancroft after the second test.
With Labuschagne expected to be retained for Old Trafford and Smith reinstated after missing the last test with concussion, Khawaja’s promotion has triggered speculation he might be set to open with David Warner in Manchester.
The lefthander has played at number three for most of his 44 tests but has an impressive average of 96.80 from his seven innings as an opener, including two centuries.
He has never opened before in England, however, and his paltry average of 19.66 in six tests away to the hosts suggests trouble handling the swinging Dukes ball.
Khawaja was cagey when asked where he saw himself fitting in at Old Trafford.
“I’m not really sure at the moment, because Smithy is in there too, trying to get a game,” he said.
“But at the moment, it’s just about some guys going out there, playing some cricket, worrying about this game, getting ready for the next game and whatever’s out of our control, just leaving it at that.”
Along with Paine, Warner, middle order batsman Travis Head and Australia’s entire bowling attack from Headingley will be rested for the Derby match.
Unused left-armer Mitchell Starc and fellow seamer Peter Siddle have been picked in Khawaja’s team, however, and have a chance to press for selection at Old Trafford.
(Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Nick Mulvenney)