THE ghost of Brian Lara is back to haunt the West Indies this Boxing Day.
It was only a few days ago that Shane Warne was calling for the Windies to urgently call Lara back into camp for the MCG after the first Test embarrassment in Hobart.
But as if the fallen Caribbean kings’ nightmare tour couldn’t get any worse, their greatest ever run-scorer doesn’t return as a saviour but instead reincarnated as an Australian batsman.
Usman Khawaja spent a childhood modelling his game on the cricketing legend and now his hamstring dramas are behind him, he has a chance to make Lara’s successors feel the wrath of a left-handed wizard – perhaps in a new role as a Test opener.
“All my life it’s been Brian Lara and him playing big booming cover drives or pull shots with one leg in the air,” Khawaja told News Corp.
“If I ever do (those shots) it’s just because I was watching Brian Lara as a kid.
“Any time I play a pull shot with one leg in the air I think of Brian Lara and I wish I could have the fluency he had when he played.
“I used to copy him in the nets all the time when I was younger … I think I might have taken a few things off him but I also like to be myself.
“I like to bat the way I bat.”
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A lot of commentators were in fact comparing Khawaja’s elegance in his maiden Test ton at the Gabba to Lara.
Khawaja can’t remember the first time he met Lara, but the pair have now crossed paths on several occasions and the Windies’ icon is now a huge supporter – even tweeting his congratulations from the other side of the world when Australian’s newest batting force smashed his maiden Test ton against New Zealand at the Gabba.
When Khawaja takes to the MCG for the first time in a Test match and faces the Windies quicks, determined not to rest on his laurels after stunning back-to-back centuries against New Zealand, there’s little doubt Lara will be on his mind.
“He’s a pretty awesome bloke,” says Khawaja.
“Obviously he knows that he’s my hero. I’ve told him a million times.
“I’ve seen that much footage of him and videos of him on you tube, I’ve probably seen all of them.
“I used to love him as a kid and just to be able to chat to him in person is a bit surreal and then obviously he sends me the odd tweet here and there so it’s always nice and humbling.
“No matter how many Test matches I’ll play I’ll always look up to Brian Lara because he’s pretty much my idol growing up.”
Khawaja stole one of David Warner’s famous Gray-Nicholls Kaboom bats for his injury comeback for the Sydney Thunder, where he smashed an extraordinary 109 off 70 balls against the Melbourne Stars.
Breaking one of Warner’s bats, as he did, may not be the best start to what looms as Australia’s new potential opening partnership – indications pointing to Khawaja being moved up from No.3 for his return.
Warner expressed his mock outrage on the night, but doesn’t expect his long-term teammate to raid his kit bag again ahead of Boxing Day, with the Kabooms a little too heavy for Khawaja in the five-day format.
However, Khawaja’s own Gray-Nicholls is itself a big piece of willow nearing the enormous proportions of Warner’s – meaning the MCG palings could be in for a work out come Boxing Day.
Speaking to News Corp in an interview before the start of this West Indian series, Khawaja offered his thoughts on the differences between opening and first drop and that two big centuries doesn’t guarantee anything.
“At No.3 you could be in there first over or you could be in there in the 50th over – that’s the tough bit … I’ve always found when I’ve opened knowing when you’re going to go in, the processes don’t have to change a lot,” Khawaja said.
“You’ve just got to be careful because obviously they were two really good Tests, but I’ve got to keep my standards high and make sure I’m doing everything I can to be a long-term player for Australia. It’s all about being consistent.
“That’s the long term goal and what I’ll be aiming for.”