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The Ashes: Can Usman Khawaja shine in England?

Australia left-hander Usman Khawaja has struggled on his two previous Ashes tours of England and will be hoping that it is another case of third time lucky in the coming months.

The top-order batter averages a mere 19.66 in England across six Tests played in 2013 and 2019, and knows that much better will be expected if the Baggy Greens are to retain the Ashes against a suddenly dazzling England side.

First up for Australia is the World Test Championship final against India at The Oval in early June, before five Ashes Tests are packed into a hectic six-week period between mid-June and the end of July.

WhatEngland v Australia, 2023 Ashes series
WhereEdgbaston, Lord's, Headingley, Old Trafford, The Oval
WhenFriday 16th June - Monday 31st July 2023
How to watchChannel 9
Odds (outright)England 2.20, Draw 6.50, Australia 2.20

Khawaja going with 'low expectations'

Previous struggles against the moving ball in England have clearly left their mark on Khawaja, with the veteran speaking about his approach to the challenges ahead in the coming weeks against both India and in the Ashes.

He recently told cricket.com.au: "England is, in my opinion, the toughest place in the world to bat for a top-three batter, plain and simple.

"If I've learned anything it's work hard, train hard, (and) if you're going to England, go with low expectations."

Khawaja's views can be well understood when you see that 12 previous Test innings in England have yielded 236 runs and a top score of just 54.

He was by no means the only top-order batter to struggle in both 2013 and 2019, with bowlers on top for both sides in those series, which ended in a 3-0 England win a decade ago and a 2-2 draw six years later.

Recent form hints at better to come

As much as Khawaja has attempted to talk down the prospects of success against the Three Lions, his from over the last two years must surely see him privately full of confidence.

The Baggy Greens are 1.66 to retain the Ashes and in Khawaja appear to have a batter at the peak of his powers.

Having been banished from the Test set-up following his struggles in England back in 2019, Khawaja was recalled against the same opposition at the start of 2022 and responded in the most magnificent style.

Two centuries at the SCG meant that Khawaja was back to stay and his record across 16 Tests since then reads 1,608 runs at an average of 69.91, including six centuries and seven 50s from 28 innings.

Those are figures that clearly demonstrate that Khawaja is in prime nick, and an outing at The Oval against India might just be the perfect Ashes preparation, with conditions in south London amongst the best for batters in England.

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Left-handers a major concern

Khawaja is one of a group of four batters who may be asked to open for Australia in the Ashes clashes and a big worry is that all four are left-handers, who struggled massively last time out in England in 2019.

An average of 20.33 for Khawaja was excellent when put up against the 9.66 of Marcus Harris and 9.50 of David Warner - who was tormented by Stuart Broad in particular as he reached double figures only once in ten knocks and registered a pair in the Manchester Test match.

Those struggles came after Warner and fellow lefty Chris Rogers impressed on the previous trip to England in 2015, when both made more than 400 runs in the series, despite the hosts taking the honours 3-2 in a thrilling contest.

The challenge for Khawaja, Warner, Harris and also Matt Renshaw is to try and replicate the success of 2015 and not the collective failures of 2019.

Those top-order issues were ultimately overlooked a little as the series ended 2-2 and Australia retained the little urn, in large part thanks to the 774 runs scored by Steve Smith and the 29 wickets taken by paceman Pat Cummins.

Australia may not be able to paper over the cracks as effectively in 2023, with hosts England on a high in Tests after winning 10 of their last 12 matches, and ready to turn up the heat in their bid to regain the Ashes.

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