ANI Photo | “It was toughest phase of my career”: Khawaja recalls his struggle ahead of 4th Ashes Test at Old Trafford

When he takes to the field for the fourth Ashes Test against England at Manchester, Australian batter Usman Khawaja will be at the ground where he was dropped from the Australian team.
It was at Old Trafford four years back that Khawaja made his final Test appearance for Australia before earning a recall in 2022. After Marnus Labuschagne made an immediate impact as a concussion substitute for the 2019 Ashes in England, Khawaja was discarded after scores of 13, 40, 36, 2, 8 and 23 in the first Three Tests in favour of Labuschange, who was named as a full-time replacement for Smith. 
Now, Khawaja returns to the venue as the top-scorer in Ashes 2023 having scored 356 runs at an average of 59.33, with one century and two fifties. His career is at a very different place. He was Australia’s top run-scorer in the ICC World Test Championship 2021-23 cycle despite missing 2021, scoring 1,621 runs at an average of over 64 in 17 Tests, with six centuries and seven fifties. 
“It was the toughest point of my career. I thought my career was pretty much over then. My wife was joking about it the other day. She was sitting up in a shopping mall at Leeds and she was saying the last time I was here, it was not a good time,” said Khawaja, according to ESPNCricinfo. 
“It was nice, it is funny how things work out. You get to come back to England and actually play at Old Trafford this time. It is a very different vibe. The team is in a different place. I am really just enjoying it,” he added. 
Australia are facing another tough call on selection. Cameron Green returns to fitness and it poses a challenge for selectors after Mitchell Marsh made himself irreplaceable following an explosive century at Headingley. 
There is talk about his opening partner David Warner, who has managed just 141 runs in six innings at an average of 23.50, with one fifty. 
“He is probably the hot topic right now,” Khawaja said. ]
“I do not know because I don’t really read the stuff. If I will say anything, from my point of view, Dave Warner has been one of the greatest openers of all time, it is him and Haydos [Matthew Hayden] right up there for Australia I reckon, the top two ever, so I will always back Davey no matter what and I think the other guys will too,” he added. 
Khawaja said that despite his stunning performances so far, batting has been tricky throughout the series. 
“I do not think anyone has felt in at any stage,” he said.
“That is England with Dukes’ balls, weather and conditions. Whereas Australia, sometimes you can kind of lock-in and feel like I am in now, I can feel like stretching this for a while. Where here, it does not feel like that because the ball is always going enough, nibbling about. You see that pace has dominated this whole [series] in the first three games,” he added. 
On Mark Wood’s explosive opening spell in the third Test, which saw him dismiss Khawaja, the left-hander said, “That first spell was pretty fiery. He looked like he had his beans going a little bit. I was at the other end for most of it, Marnus faced a fair bit. He was swinging it too. That is what made it a little bit more difficult and he was doing it beautifully.”
“Moeen Ali bowled a brilliant spell. Think it is probably forgotten a bit. He got Marnus and Steve Smith, potentially our two best batsmen of the last few years, so think that is what broke our back that game. It was a team effort, it is not just Woody. If you worry about one bowler, the other bowler will get you out,” he concluded. (ANI)

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