Recalled batsman Usman Khawaja is set to be entrusted with the crucial batting spot at first drop as well as a leadership role as he returns to the Australian Test squad in Bangladesh.
Khawaja was on Monday named in a 15-man squad for next month’s two-Test tour of Bangladesh, ending a Test exile which dates back to the failed Ashes campaign of 2013.
Among the selection surprises were the inclusion of Tasmanian quick Andrew Fekete, WA opener Cameron Bancroft and a return for Victorian allrounder Glenn Maxwell.
Coach Darren Lehmann believes, in his latest incarnation as a Test player, Khawaja has the chance to lock himself into the team long-term.
“I’m pretty sure he’ll be 1, 2 or 3. And hopefully for a long time,” Lehmann said.
“We think he can actually play a lot of Test cricket for us.
“He’s been in and out of the side a little bit and only played a few games here and there, but to give him a good run at it and see how he goes would be exciting for the coaching group.”
That suggests the graceful left-hander, who debuted at the SCG against England in 2011, isn’t being shoehorned in to fill the opening spots left vacant by injured vice-captain David Warner (thumb) as well as the retired Chris Rogers – and a return to No.3, where he has played 14 of his 17 Test innings, beckons.
First drop is typically the domain of a team’s best batsman and in Australian history has seen the likes of Bradman, Ponting and Chappell setting the tone of an innings.
Such a decision would shuffle captain Steve Smith back down to No.4, a move he is open to, and could give Australia a settled top order to build around in the coming years.
Lehmann said Khawaja, who was recently appointed the Queensland Bulls captain and led Australia A on their tour of India last month, would bring vital leadership qualities to a squad devoid of experienced heads.
Following the retirements of Rogers, Michael Clarke, Brad Haddin, Shane Watson and Ryan Harris in recent months, rookie skipper Steve Smith has very few people to lean on for advice.
Lehmann expects Khawaja to provide support on that front, despite boasting a Test career of just nine caps.
“He’ll still be young in terms of not playing many games, but he’s been around a long while and with a young squad he’ll be exceptional in that (regard),” he explained.
Lehmann likened Khawaja’s rebirth in Test cricket to the late entries of Mike Hussey and Adam Gilchrist, both of whom made their marks after the age of 30 having served long apprenticeships behind established stars.
“There’s a big push from the press to go really young,” he said.
“But for us it’s about getting the right balance between youth and experience and we think `Uz’ fills both those.”
Australian squad for tour of Bangladesh
Steve Smith (c), Adam Voges (vc), Cameron Bancroft, Joe Burns, Patrick Cummins, Andrew Fekete, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Shaun Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Peter Nevill, Stephen O’Keefe, Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc