The Australian Test selector’s games seemed to have paid off, as the returning Usman Khawaja and Joe Burns have turned it on in a big way in the opening test.
The 28-year-old Khawaja is likely on his last chance in the Test set up, after failing to capitalise on past call ups to the national side.
Heading into the current test series, Khawaja averaged only a touch over 26, with a high score of 65, in his nine previous tests.
Despite his undoubted talent, he was never able to truly turn that into runs on the test stage … until Thursday
His inning high 174 helped put Australia in an almost unbeatable position, as Steve Smith declared the Aussie inning at the fall of Khawaja’s knock.
Given the state of the game at the time, Khawaja took the unselfish route, almost sacrificing his wicket in the search for quick runs.
There was barely a false shot in his six hour stint at the crease. His wicket only fell after playing a shot that certainly wasn’t on.
He managed 16 fours and two maximums in his 239 ball knock.
It must be said though, unlike his previous test innings, he came to the crease without a whole lot of game pressure, after Joe Burns combined with Dave Warner for a 161 run opening partnership.
Burns contributed 71 runs in his third test, his first test on home shores.
Batting early on day one for the season-opening Gabba test is never easy, but Burns managed to negotiate the opening spell without a major scare.
He was beaten early by a brilliant deliver by Trent Boult, but otherwise did not look overly worried.
As well as piling on the runs, he also took the shine off the new ball, and the pressure off his middle order, by chewing up 120 deliveries.
Although scoring was slow, he was never really bogged down, and always looked in control of the situation.
The way he left the ball early may not excite the casual fan, however given Australia’s inability to play the moving ball outside off stump in England, it was encouraging to see.
David Warner, who went on to score 163 himself, seemed to gain confidence from his partner’s controlled knock.
Australia, for the brilliance of their openers, haven’t enjoyed an opening partnership of this magnitude since Langer and Hayden.
In recent test series, one opener might go on to post a decent score, but the pressure has been on early, as the other has lost their wicket, exposing the fragile middle order.
Burns and Khawaja’s assured knocks, took the pressure off the under siege Adam Voges, who was allowed to play his natural game, and brilliantly played his way to 83 not out.
If not for the declaration, who knows what he would have scored, however with a tiring New Zealand attack, Voges looked set to go big.
Mitch Marsh, who has struggled to match his impact with the ball with the bat during his brief career, was not even needed to take guard.
Steve Smith, whose wicket has become the most prized in international cricket, was able to worry only about himself, and not the frailties around him, and scored 48.
He looked set to add plenty more, if not for an absolute jaffa of a delivery from Boult.
Critics will say that Burns, Khawaja and co took advantage of a brilliant pitch, although the fact that the Kiwis have lost five wickets for under 200 would indicate perhaps there is more in the pitch than the black caps were able to extract.
This series is far from over, but thanks in part to two brilliant knocks by two recently recalled Burns and Khawaja, the Aussies are in a very strong position.
It’s safe to say both have taken the opportunity given to them with both hands.