News this morning that Usman Khawaja will return to Derbyshire for the second half of the season when Martin Guptill leaves. Regular readers will know I have been suggesting this for a number of months and the reversal of last season's overseas pairing leaves much to look forward to. The players will certainly welcome the return of a charming man who fitted in so well in 2011.
Khawaja is a player of quality - that much is evident within minutes of seeing him take guard - with a good technique and awareness of the balls to leave, things that will serve him well in 2012. He also has a good range of shots and is a wristy player in the tradition of the best Asian players over the years. While likely to represent Australia proudly and with regularity in the years ahead, however, Khawaja has challenges in the coming summer.
First of all, he has to convince the Australian selectors that he can consistently play long innings. The number three berth in the Australian side is up for grabs and many see Khawaja as the heir-apparent to Ponting's throne, yet thus far in a fledgling Test career he has plenty of starts and nothing of substance, aside from an important 65 against South Africa as his side chased down an imposing target in that country this winter. Nine centuries and eleven fifties in just 71 first-class innings is indicative of Khawaja's talent, but he needs to turn the starts into tons with greater regularity, something that the very best players do. Weight of runs in England has always been a strong counter-argument though and would do Usman no harm whatsoever.
Last season he was hampered by a thigh injury for much of the time, yet still looked a player of high class. Had he stayed, I have the feeling that he would have racked up a lot of runs on the more batsman-friendly tracks of late summer. This year he has the opportunity to do that and has the valuable experience of last year to draw on.
Of course, Khawaja's debut this time around will come in the T20 and there comes his other challenge. At 25 he has only 13 T20 innings behind him that have produced just 225 runs at 18. With 65 of those coming in one knock, it is evident that Khawaja has not yet mastered the short form of the game. Perhaps his silky skills aren't suited to the more muscular needs of T20, just as the best of Katich, Rogers, North, Yousuf, Dravid and others has been seen in the longer forms of the game.
Yet Derbyshire need him to acquire those skills. To say that we have gambled on a player of such obvious ability is unfair and I reiterate that I would expect him to score heavily in the longer forms of the game this year. If we are to make progress in the T20 though - and bearing in mind it is a major earner for clubs we really need to at some point - Khawaja has to set the standard and convince people that he can play T20. At this stage, as I've written before, I'm not convinced, but I look forward to Khawaja hopefully scoring a stackful of runs in this season's competition, at which point, I will be delighted to admit that I was wrong.
Welcome back Usman - we look forward to seeing you again!