Khawaja says victory will be all the sweeter if Australia retain Ashes
Usman Khawaja believes victory will be all the sweeter for Australia if they prevail in one of the remaining two Ashes Tests following their dramatic Headingley hiccup.
Ben Stokes’ scintillating 135 not out ushered England to a scarcely believable one-wicket victory, anchoring an unbroken 76-run stand with last man Jack Leach as the hosts overhauled a record fourth-innings pursuit of 359.
While Khawaja made no attempt to hide his or Australia’s dismay, he pointed out they only need to win at either Old Trafford or The Oval to retain the urn.
He said: “You lose from a point where you don’t expect to lose, and it hurts, it probably hurts more because you know you probably should have won that game.
“It definitely sticks with you, especially afterwards, it’s always tough to sleep that night because you’re thinking of what could you have done, what could you have done differently as a team.
“It’s one of the toughest losses I’ve had, I think a lot of the guys will be the same.
“The way it ended, the drama, you couldn’t write a script the way it ended. It was heartbreaking for us as a team. Hopefully, it will make the next game or the game after when we do win that bit more special.
“When you’ve done it for a long time you know how quickly things can change in sport. A week is a long time in sport, so we’re looking forward to the next game.”
The tourists will look to draw a line under what happened in Leeds in a three-day tour match in Derbyshire, where Khawaja will lead the side in the rested Tim Paine’s absence, while Steve Smith begins his return from concussion.
Smith cast a large shadow in the first two Tests, contributing 378 runs in three innings, but was ruled out last week because of the knock-on effects of a blow to the neck from a Jofra Archer bouncer.
Khawaja said: “He’s been on fire lately, he’s been batting beautifully. We’re looking forward to him getting back out there, he had a pretty tough knock. But knowing Steve he’ll be pretty excited to get back out there, too.”
Smith’s replacement Marnus Labuschagne has made half-centuries in his last three innings, putting pressure on the rest of Australia’s misfiring top-six.
Khawaja is under the microscope because of an average of 20.33 after six innings in this series – against a career mark of 40.66 in 44 Tests.
He is set to open alongside Marcus Harris at Derby in what could be a straight shootout for a spot in the fourth Test, which gets under way on September 4.
Khawaja added: “I actually feel really good batting but I just haven’t made any big runs lately which is obviously frustrating for me.
“You want your top order to score big, we’ve fallen short of that at the top order, they have too in a lot of the games. I’ve actually been getting lots of starts, it’s not like I’m in no man’s territory.
“The most important thing is to capitalise on those starts because if you don’t capitalise on a start there are always times where you’re going to get out early.”
Australia, meanwhile, have played down fears over Nathan Lyon after their premier off-spinner slightly twisted his right ankle during a game of touch rugby.
He left training as a precaution but Cricket Australia said he would have stayed on in a Test match.
Lyon, alongside Paine, batsmen David Warner and Travis Head and fast bowlers Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and James Pattinson, will sit out the Derbyshire fixture, which starts on Thursday.
Australia have brought Alex Carey into their squad although the wicketkeeper has not been added to the official touring party and is expected to return to a county stint with Sussex once he has concluded his duties against Derbyshire.