Australian opening batter Usman Khawaja has explained how the decision to hand more power to the players has transformed the national Test side in the years after the infamous homeworkgate scandal.
The Queensland captain comes into the Australian Test summer against Pakistan and the West Indies refreshed, not carrying any injuries or niggles and with The Ashes and the Test Championship safely in Australia’s keeping.
It is a long way off the dark days of 2013 when former coach Mickey Arthur ruled over the Australian team with an iron fist.
Veteran middle-order stalwart Mike Hussey shocked the nation that year with his retirement in January and things went from bad to worse from there.
Australia’s tour to India in March ended in disaster, thumped 4-0 and with key players Shane Watson, Mitchell Johnson, James Pattinson and Usman Khawaja sent home for not doing a presentation ordered by Arthur.
Australian opening batsman Usman Khawaja has opened up on the big changes in the Test side
Khawaja was one of four players sent home from a tour of India by then-coach Mickey Arthur (pictured together)
Australia then travelled to England where they were thrashed and Khawaja was dropped
David Warner was fined $11,500 and suspended for attacking journalists on social media. Arthur is sacked. Australia suffers a three-nil Ashes defeat in England.
Khawaja will be a key member of the Australian side that has turned the corner in a big way since then.
He reflected on those troubled years in 2013 and accused Arthur and other leadership figures of not respecting the players and how hard the stresses of Test cricket was impacting them.
‘They didn’t respect how hard Test cricket is mentally,’ he told the Sydney Morning Herald.
Khawaja praised the current leaders, including coach Andrew McDonald, head of selectors George Bailey and captain Pat Cummins for better understanding the needs of the players.
‘I think Patty and especially Andrew and George understand how hard it is to be able to mentally perform at international level,’ he said.
‘I don’t think the guys would have been able to perform at the international level the way they have this year if it wasn’t for those people at the top.
‘I know for a fact that they have worked hard at taking the load off, taking the pressure off, taking the stress off, and letting the players play at their best for as long as possible. The little things that don’t matter do not matter – we’re not there to box tick.’
The Test side has turned around dramatically, winning the Test Championship this year
The change of culture extends to the ODI squad as well, which won the ICC World Cup
Khawaja is feeling mentally and physically refreshed ahead of the Australian summer of cricket
Khawaja revealed that players used to be lashed for trying to rest during Test matches and were forced into drills and warmups that were unnecessary by the hard-edged leadership group of the time.
‘Five years ago, if I was sleeping during a cricket game, I’d get absolutely scolded,’ Khawaja said.
‘A Test match is five days, it’s tough work, but ‘what are you doing sleeping during a game, wake up’. Now with Patty or anyone, if someone is sleeping during the game, no one says a word.
‘Even the smallest things like warm-ups, getting you ready to play the game. That takes that little bit of mental strength. Every day you don’t have to wake up dreading doing a warm-up you don’t want to do.
‘If I nicked off the day before, and I’m not batting, why do I need to do a warm-up? I don’t need to warm up until we go out and field again.’
Khawaja said the onus had now been put back on the players which had reaped massive rewards.
‘think there’s that respect, accountability and trust that everyone will do what they need to,’ he said.
‘Players are getting treated like adults for the first time in a long time, and they’re behaving like adults … for the majority of the time.’
Coach Andrew McDonald has been praised for changing the culture and putting more responsibility back in the hands of the players
McDonald and Cummins have worked together to create a new winning culture in Australian cricket across all formats
New chief selector George Bailey has also been part of the revival of Australian cricket
Part of the new era of leadership has been allowing players rest where they need it, allowing Khawaja the chance to freshen up for the upcoming Test series’ without being forced to play Sheffield Shield or warm up matches.
‘No one questions when a fast bowler takes time off, do they?’ Khawaja said.
‘So I don’t know why anyone was questioning myself taking a couple of games off. You never play six Shield matches before a Test series, there’s always a case of getting burned out before you get to a Test series mentally.
‘The toll of batting isn’t physical, it’s more the mental toll, you’re always switched on. I’ve batted a lot this year, I’ve been switched on a lot, so I know at some level I’ve got to respect that.
I was pretty tired after that Ashes series mentally, and going into [the Sheffield Shield] I played that first game and the plan was always set out.
‘Credit to Andrew and George, they’ve been great through the whole process. We sat down and thought about what’s the best way to prepare and go about it, and that’s the way it was.’