Fri, 16 Nov 2018
25
Dubai

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Save for those belonging to Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood, Usman Khawaja's knee is arguably the most important in Australian cricket right now. So far, its recovery from a meniscus tear suffered during the tour of the UAE is progressing fractionally ahead of schedule, brightening Khawaja's chances of returning to fitness in time for a Sheffield Shield match prior to the first Test against India.

As the outstanding batsman of Australia's remarkable draw against Pakistan in Dubai, Khawaja underlined why, in the absence of the banned Steven Smith and David Warner, he is the standout batsman in the country. His knee injury in warm-ups on day two of the second Test in Abu Dhabi left a gulf that has been made plain since, in the remainder of that match and also the first ODI against South Africa in Perth.

While Khawaja's status in the limited-overs plans of the coach Justin Langer was unclear ahead of the South Africa series, his chances of returning to the national team in white-ball formats will only grow with further underwhelming displays by others. For now, however, the No. 1 priority for him is to get fit in time for Queensland's Sheffield Shield match with Victoria in Brisbane from November 27. It will allow him to spend time in the middle ahead of the first Test against India in Adelaide in early December.

"Ideally, I'm going well towards then [the first Test] and, in an ideal world, I'd like to play a Shield game before then," Khawaja said in Brisbane. "That's the target, that's the goal, but just have to see. Still three weeks until then, so if everything keeps going the same way it should be good.

"It's going pretty well so far, just over two weeks, ran at 100% yesterday on the treadmill, hopefully run outside tomorrow, so progressing well so far. The docs and everyone have been really happy with the progress, there's a long way to go, just taking it day by day at the moment but hoping to be right sooner rather than later."

Khawaja's loss of weight and significantly improved fitness since last summer was cited by Langer when summing up his Dubai innings - "look at him", he beamed - and is now aiding his recovery from knee surgery. "I'm 10 kilograms lighter than I was in South Africa, maybe seven months ago. I'm sure that helps the knees in some respects," Khawaja said.

"My recovery is going really well so far, I'm trying to keep it cool, but it's actually going really well. I feel like I'm a little bit ahead of where I should be and, at the moment, things are progressing well but it's a long way still to go. If I keep doing the little things right, looking after my body and being disciplined, hopefully that'll transition to me coming back in time."

In addition to taking him out of the Abu Dhabi Test match, Khawaja's knee tear ruled him out of any ODI calculations, and he was blunt about stating that next year's World Cup in England is high on his list of goals for the next 12 months. His initial sense of lost opportunity was balanced by his wife Rachel, who rightly pointed out that beyond the South Africa series there will be numerous other 50-over assignments between now and the naming of the Cup squad.

"The team hadn't been picked when I got injured, but I felt like I was putting my hand up and I really wanted to get amongst it and if selected play some one-day cricket," Khawaja said. "Targeting that World Cup is a big thing, one of my major goals, I want to at least be a part of that squad. But there's plenty more opportunities still coming. I was pretty down, that was one of the reasons, but Rachel my wife put it in perspective, she said there's plenty more opportunities coming, so hopefully I'll get my body right and go from there.

"It's one of my major goals to get back into the one-day side, I've had chats to Justin about it, he knows where I'm at too, but at the end of the day, we play a game, it's all about performances. Hopefully when I'm right and things are going well, I'll put my hand up through performances. But the guys playing in the one day side are very good players. I have no doubt they'll come back strong. It's been a tough time for Australian cricket in more respects than just on-field, so it'd be nice as a fan and a mate to a lot of those guys to see them do well."

Speaking at a time of enormous change at the top levels of Cricket Australia, while the national team struggles for results, Khawaja called for calm heads and counselled against a rush to judge the limited-overs team after only one home match this summer - even if it was a comprehensive hiding at the hands of the Proteas.

"There is a lot of change in Australian cricket at the moment," he said. "As players we stay out of it a little bit, but there is a lot of change going on at the moment and, to be honest, all I really care about at the moment is the team. You watch the guys play on screen for Australia, you watch the Queensland boys play. I'm not part of all the other stuff so it's hard to comment on exactly what's going on.

"I know we've lost a whole bunch of one-dayers over the past year, but this series isn't lost yet, we're probably better off seeing what happens over the next two games then reassess as well. I don't think it's time for panic stations, sometimes you just need to sit back and see what happens."

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