After several false dawns the stage is set for Usman Khawaja to stake his long-term claim for an Australian Test spot, coach Darren Lehmann said Monday.
Pakistan-born Khawaja has another chance to consolidate a place in the Australia team when he bats at number three in the first of three Tests against New Zealand in Brisbane from Thursday.
Khawaja has had a stop-start career in his nine Tests since making his debut against England in Sydney in 2011, amassing just 377 runs at 25.13.
Now in the wake of a raft of retirements of established Test stars, Michael Clarke and Shane Watson among them, opportunity is knocking once again for the 28-year-old left-hander.
He will enjoy the advantage of his home Gabba pitch, where he plays for Queensland, but cannot afford more batting failures this time round.
“We know he is a great technician and he has time which is important at this level,” Lehmann said of Khawaja.
“He knows conditions well here at the Gabba — the time is right for him to perform.”
The batsman will attempt to revive his international career at number three after skipper Steve Smith’s decision to demote himself for the first Test.
Lehmann said there was no pressure on Smith to move down the order to provide “more balance” in the inexperienced batting line-up.
“He can bat wherever he wants,” Lehmann said.
“I said, ‘If you want to bat three you can bat three, if you want four you can bat four.’ We discussed it, talked about the pros and cons.
“He had great success at three at this year’s Ashes mixed in with some indifferent performances I suppose and he has great success at four so it doesn’t matter so much — it’s more the (team) selection.”
Smith told News Corp he would move down to number four for “team balance”, but Lehmann said they also had Khawaja’s Test revival in mind.
“Khawaja has been successful at three, so we have given him the opportunity to bat where he does for his state (Queensland), give him first crack,” Lehmann said.
In eight Sheffield Shield matches at the Gabba, Khawaja has scored 839 runs at 69.92, including three centuries.
Only two of his 15 Shield innings in Brisbane have not been at number three.
Former Test skipper Ian Chappell said it was time for Khawaja and some young guns to seize their Test chances.
“The young blokes haven’t been grabbing their opportunities recently and that is why we have had all these 30-year-olds making their debut,” Chappell said.
“But because of the retirements now they’ve got to start choosing some young blokes, it is up to them, they have to make the most of it.”