Usman Khawaja says he’s lost up to seven kilos since Australia’s ill-fated tour of South Africa to get into the best fitness of his life ahead of the next stage of his career. Khawaja, 31, has only played 33 Tests since making his debut to much fanfare in 2011, and even though he has been more of a regular over the past three years, he doesn’t want to leave anything to chance.
“I wanted to get fitter, lose a bit of weight and keep my strength,” Khawaja told cricket.com.au. “I’d found it a bit difficult in the past few years, especially after coming back from my [knee reconstruction], to get in the work. It’s always hard coming back from a major injury and it’s only the last 12 months I’ve felt in a good place again, ready to go a bit harder.”
The last few months have seen a clearing out in Australian cricket, with three players with whom Khawaja would normally be jostling for places – Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft – banned for up to a year for the ball-tampering controversy that marred the tour of South Africa in April. There’s also a new coach in charge, with Darren Lehmann having left to be replaced by Justin Langer, and though Khawaja wasn’t selected for the ODI tour of England – Langer’s first assignment in charge of the national team – he feels confident about making the squad to play against Pakistan in the UAE later this year.
“We had long conversations,” Khawaja said. “He knew I was disappointed. We had some really good chats. I know the expectations, and I know where I stand.”
So Khawaja’s gone back to what he can control – his own fitness – and as far as that goes, he feels he’s getting better results than he’s ever previously had. “I’ve dropped seven kilos since South Africa – I’m down to 77kg. I got just about 7:30 in my 2km time trial, which is a personal best. I did jump testing the other day and I jumped higher than I have before. So all the markers have been better than I’ve had for at least the last five years.
“I did it all on my own pretty much. I had a month-and-a-half on my own (after South Africa) just doing fitness stuff, going to the gym. I had a space downstairs where I’ve set up my own gym now, I invested some money in that and it’s great. I can just walk downstairs now, do what I want to do.”
Khawaja is part of an Australia A tour of India, which is effectively an audition ahead of the Pakistan tour. Asia has not been a happy hunting ground for Khawaja, with the left-hander averaging just 14.62 from nine innings in the region. Walking into a team where he played a Test before any of the current Australian squad, he will need to bear a greater share of the responsibility if Australia are to overturn what has been a wretched recent record away to subcontinental sides.
But it isn’t just in physique where Khawaja feels he is lighter than ever; he’s not placing too much psychological pressure on himself either. After having let the pressure get to him a number of times in the past, he’s not obsessing over how the next few months’ work out.
“You do have to enjoy what you’re doing. I remember working my arse off before the 2013 Ashes and I went there and only scored one fifty and didn’t play well, and got dropped. But I probably wasn’t in a good space (mentally); if you’re doing fitness work, you’re starving yourself and you’re in a bad headspace, then I don’t reckon you’re going to score runs – no matter how fit you get.
“But this is the first time I haven’t really given a crap about what anyone else thinks – I’m doing this for myself, trying to be the best version of myself, and I’ve been enjoying it. Hopefully I can go out there and do really well in the ‘A’ stuff and the rest will take care of itself. But if I don’t, I know it’s not the end of the world.”
He isn’t looking too closely at all that’s changed around him in the wake of the Newlands ball-tampering scandal, which saw three key players get hit with long bans and the coach resign.
“JL (Langer) is my fifth coach of Australia now [after Tim Nielsen, stand-in Troy Cooley, Mickey Arthur and Darren Lehmann]. I’ve been through it all, I’ve seen a lot of different coaches, and I’ve been in and out of the team a lot – especially in my younger years. I’ve learnt to just realise there are some things you can’t control.”
What he can control, though, he appears to have been doing very well indeed lately.