CricViz analyst Freddie Wilde profiles Usman Khawaja.
Usman Khawaja’s career has followed a peculiar course. Despite obvious talent and a Test average of 45.47 he has only played in 24 of Australia’s 74 Tests since his debut in 2011. When he next plays a Test it will be his eighth stint in the team, with only one absence enforced by injury. In Khawaja’s first nine Tests of his career in three stints of three matches between 2011 and 2013 his failure to secure his spot was largely due to his inability to convert starts: he made 13 double figure scores but never more than 65. Since returning to the team in 2015 Khawaja has finally begun to match his style at the crease with substance, scoring more than 500 runs in the 2015/16 and 2016/17 home seasons. However, a chasm has opened up between Khawaja’s returns at home, where he averages 63.73 and away where he averages just 27.21. Such is the extent of Khawaja’s troubles abroad – particularly against spin – that he is becoming something of a home specialist. Despite scoring 577 runs in 11 innings at home last season he was only selected for one of Australia’s six away Tests in India and Bangladesh and was dropped after two single figure scores.
Khawaja is a typical, modern Australian player: averaging more against pace: 55.31, than spin: 39.58; and averaging more on the back foot v pace: 109.40, than the front foot v pace: 37.16.
Khawaja is a very strong puller and cutter against pace, averaging 197.00 and 78.00 respectively. This strength is clearly reflected in his average of 112.00 against balls that pitch shorter than 8 metres from the stumps, having only been dismissed three times by them and is illustrated in his Boundary Heatmap below. Khawaja’s strength off the back foot is evident in his footwork preferences which show him to play off the back foot against pace 37% of the time (global average 30%), despite receiving a fuller than typical average length from pace bowlers of 7.02 metres from his stumps (global average 7.20m). Khawaja’s average against balls that pitch fuller than 8 metres of 44.77 represents a comparative weakness but is still a healthy average.
Against spin Khawaja’s struggles can be traced back to a very weak defensive game which sees him dismissed once every 60.42 defensive shots (global average 85.53). Khawaja’s lack of confidence in his defence is betrayed by shot-type analysis which shows he defends 37% of deliveries (global average 39%) and attacks 32% (global average 26%). Although Khawaja attacks a high proportion of deliveries he doesn’t appear to have a particular robust method by which to do so. He comes down the pitch to 5% of deliveries from spin which is in-line with the global average and his balls per dismissal when playing any kind of sweep shot of 13.25 is poor (global average v spin 22.57). Khawaja is a strong back foot player against spin, averaging 54.81, but because he is reluctant to use his feet and weak when sweeping he doesn’t unsettle spinners enough to make them drop the ball short any more often than the global average.
BOWL FULL; BOWL SPIN
Given Khawaja’s strength off the back foot England’s pace bowlers should look to bring him forward. Although the sample size is still relatively small, Khawaja’s weakness off the front foot only materialises against very full balls. Against those that pitch between five and eight metres from him he averages an excellent 59.00 (global average 25.18), however against those any fuller than that his average plummets to 26.60 (global average 41.97).
Spin is Khawaja’s glaring weakness and that weakness is particularly acute against off spin, where he averages just 30.90 – lower than any other bowler-type. In the past Graeme Swann has exploited this weakness to devastating effect, dismissing him five times at an average of just 12.50. As such, Moeen Ali is likely to have a big role to play against Khawaja. Given that Moeen’s average against left-handers of 29.10 is far superior to his average against right-handers of 40.63 he should be relishing this particular battle.
Freddie Wilde is an analyst at CricViz. @fwildecricket