Usman Khawaja in plans despite comments, says Darren Lehmann as Test auditions begin

Shield action: Steve Smith and Usman Khawaja are all smiles after the coin toss at the Gabba. Photo: Chris HydeDarren Lehmann insists Usman Khawaja’s “scapegoat” comments won’t be held against him when the Test squad is named on Friday as the Australian coach declared there were genuine spots up for grabs ahead of the opener against South Africa.
Nanjing Night Net

Lehmann was in Brisbane on Tuesday for the pink-ball Shield game at the Gabba between Queensland and a stacked NSW side, many of whom will be trading their blue caps for green against the Proteas in Perth.

After the early loss of openers David Warner (12) and Ed Cowan, who was bowled without offering a shot on 10, the Blues feasted in the afternoon sun to be 2-176 ahead of dinner, with Steve Smith and Kurtis Patterson notching half-centuries.

It was a long day in the field for Khawaja and opening aspirant Joe Burns, with both looking to reclaim their spots after being dropped for the final Test in the winless series against Sri Lanka.

The former NSW left-hander claimed selectors had been “fickle” when he was demoted in favour of Moises Henriques for the final Test in Colombo, while Burns made way for Shaun Marsh, who was returning from a hamstring injury suffered in Perth against South Australia.

Lehmann was happy to laugh off the comments, saying Khawaja was in their plans for the first Test and beyond and he was happy to add a new nickname to the stockpile.

“He’s not on the back foot. I love these nicknames … we have the GOAT [Nathan Lyon] and now we have the scapegoat. I love it. But I will chat to him privately, we would rather have these things played out between selectors and players,” Lehmann said.

“Being on the selection panel for that Test match, it was warranted. At the end of the day, there were different conditions and those two guys weren’t playing well enough, they averaged eight or seven in two Test matches.

“We had to change something but that doesn’t affect the summer at home. We have to work out what we think the best batting line-up is for the summer.”

Lehmann and duty selector Trevor Hohns weren’t able to get a look at a few of their main concerns ahead of the Test, with Queensland winning the toss and sending the Blues in to bat. That left Burns and Khawaja without the willow and returning quick Mitchell Starc cooling his heels in the dressing room.

But the coach said runs would mean plenty in Brisbane and Perth, as would the bowling performances of Peter Siddle and Jackson Bird in Melbourne, with that pair the leading contenders to be the third quick alongside Starc and Josh Hazlewood.

“It’s always important, you need to make runs against Starc and Hazlewood or vice versa, you grow in standing. It’s important not just here at the Gabba but all the games around the country, the start of the year when there are spots up for grabs, it’s important to start well,” Lehmann said.

“Like all our blokes, we want them to prove their fitness first and foremost and then they have to get some form. Hopefully Mitchell gets through and there are no problems.”

Lehmann had a dual-purpose in Brisbane, as did the Australian players in action as they sounded out the pink ball in Queensland conditions ahead of the day-night Test against Pakistan in December.

The new, improved pink ball is brighter than the one used in Adelaide last year and boasts a more-pronounced seam. But with the humidity in spring far lower than summer, it will at best be a guide on how the ball will behave closer to Christmas if the air is thick as pea soup.

“We won’t know until we get here in late summer, that’s the unknown. But we will get a better idea over the next three or four days,” Lehmann said.

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