Australia opener Usman Khawaja credited the extra yards he’s put in on the fitness front after notching up his maiden one-day international hundred in the third ODI against India in Ranchi on Friday, 8 March.
Khawaja’s knock laid a solid foundation for Australia, as they racked up 313/5 and went on to win by 32 runs. It was Australia’s first away win in ODIs since September 2017, ending an eight-match losing streak.
The win kept Australia alive in the five-match series, after they lost the first two ODIs, but it was also an important step in Khawaja’s reintegration into the one-day outfit. Since making his comeback into the ODI side, after two years out, in January this year, Khawaja has struck 306 runs in six innings at an average of 51 – markedly better than his career average of 36.90.
“I’ve worked really hard over the past year to get back into the one-day side,” Khawaja said. “With my fitness, day in and day out, I’ve put in the extra yards. It was really satisfying just coming back into the one-day side after all that hard work I’d put in. It’s even nicer now to get that first 100 and get that win.”
The importance of the improvements Khawaja has made in his fitness come to better light when considering that he’s had to wait nearly three years since last coming close to an ODI century. Khawaja made 98 in an ODI against West Indies in Basseterre in 2016.
Having run tentatively right through that innings, it eventually cost him when he was two short of the landmark, run out while attempting a third run. It was Khawaja’s call, after being stuck in the 90s, but he ultimately failed to complete the run.
“The first (century) is always the hardest – no matter what you’re playing,” Khawaja said. “I found the same thing in Test cricket and same thing in one-day cricket. I got that 98 before, a few years ago. It was frustrating and disappointing. But just to be back in the side, I’m really enjoying my cricket at the moment.
“It’s a really good bunch of blokes out there, and I’m just glad we got the win and I was able to contribute. It’s obviously a special one, being my first, but there’s two games left and we’ve still got a bit of work to do.”
Khawaja also reserved praise for Adam Zampa. The legspinner took a battering, with Virat Kohli in full flow, but eventually hit back, bowling the Indian captain at a critical juncture in the chase. Zampa has now accounted for Kohli’s scalp twice in three games this series, in addition to once in the first T20I.
He wound up giving away 70 runs in his 10 overs, but importantly struck thrice, also accounting for MS Dhoni and Kedar Jadhav. Both those strikes ended the respective partnerships before they could flourish as India were looking to recover from 27/3.
“I think the great thing about today was I don’t even think he bowled at his best and he still took some extremely important wickets, and that’s the sign of a good player,” Khawaja said. “You’re not at your best, you’re not having your best day, and you’re still picking those important wickets.
“Batsmen pride themselves on the same thing. We don’t feel like we’re hitting the ball as well, to [still] try and get runs on those days, and I think Zamps did that beautifully today.”