Skipper backs Khawaja as Ashes game-breaker

Australian batsman Usman Khawaja plays a shot against Pakistan in Brisbane last summer.
Australian batsman Usman Khawaja plays a shot against Pakistan in Brisbane last summer. Tertius Pickard

USMAN Khawaja will reclaim his spot as Australia's No.3 batsman in Bangladesh in anticipation of his key role as an Ashes game-breaker.

Australian captain Steve Smith has virtually confirmed the XI for the first Test in Dhaka in just over a week's time, with Ashton Agar back and Matthew Wade safe behind the stumps as keeper.

After most players stood up and showed improvement in India earlier this year, Australia's chief concern now isn't its line-up but whether monsoon season in Bangladesh is going to drown the series out and wash Smith's fourth-ranked team down the ICC rankings.

There are grave doubts about Australia's two-day tour game going ahead next week with the rain falling and the Fatullah ground already flooded with contaminated water.

However, Smith says they fly to the subcontinent certain about their plans and under no illusions about the dangerous challenge posed by plucky Bangladesh on their own soil.

Khawaja was shunted for Shaun Marsh in India, but after no Test cricket in a staggering seven months, the classy left-hander is being backed to expel doubts about his ability in spinning conditions.

Smith will drop to No.4 to accommodate Khawaja - who is being groomed as an England destroyer - at first-drop.

"I think Usman is going to be a really big player for us this summer," said Smith before the team's departure in Darwin.

"I think he's done incredibly well in Australia last couple of years and I think it'll be good for him to get some cricket.

"He hasn't played any cricket since the last Test match in Sydney so he's champing at the bit to get out there and I dare say he'll get his opportunity.

"It's very wet in Bangladesh ... it'd be great if we can get a tour match in on a wicket that's suitable and similar to what we're likely to get in the Test match but we'll wait and see what the weather is like and what facilities are available to us to use."


Australian captain Steve Smith during a training session.
Australian captain Steve Smith during a training session. Aijaz Rahi

Unless the rain significantly alters the conditions Australia is preparing to face in Bangladesh, it would appear Glenn Maxwell will be the all-rounder and selectors will go into the two-Test series in Dhaka and Chittagong with a recipe of two spinners and two quicks - Nathan Lyon and Agar and pace demons Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood.

Peter Handscomb flagged earlier in the week he was concentrating on his glovework in case thrusting him behind the stumps was "good for team balance", however Smith was strong in his endorsement of Wade capitalising on his opportunity.

"Matty in India had some good innings without going on to get a big score. His plans were really good and the way he plays spin and adapts is really good," Smith said.

"It'd be great if we can have him go on to make a big score. I think it would be great for his confidence and his keeping will benefit from that as well. He's been working really hard, he's obviously got Brad Haddin on board now as fielding coach and someone he can work with really closely. He's going to benefit from that for sure."


Australian cricketer Ashton Agar takes part in a net session at the SCG.
Australian cricketer Ashton Agar takes part in a net session at the SCG. DAN HIMBRECHTS

Agar hasn't been sighted in Test cricket since the 2013 Ashes, when he came from nowhere to debut, and returns with enormous pressure on him given selectors have chosen to leave out consistent performers Steve O'Keefe and Jon Holland.

"He's improved a lot over the past couple of years. He's bowled really well up here this week and he's probably going to get his opportunity first up if that's the way we go (with two spinners)," Smith said.

"With Ashton, it's when he's consistent and he's hitting a good length, he's going to be dangerous.

"He's gained a lot of confidence in the last couple of years. I'm sure he's going to be a big player for us on this tour and in the future as well."

Probable Australian XI: David Warner, Matt Renshaw, Usman Khawaja, Steve Smith (c), Peter Handscomb, Glenn Maxwell, Matt Wade, Pat Cummins, Ashton Agar, Josh Hazlewood, Nathan Lyon.

Topics:  australian cricket team steve smith usman khawaja

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