Aussie cricket fans were left stunned on Thursday when a selfless move from Usman Khawaja completely backfired on his hopes of earning selection in the first Ashes Test.
Captaining Queensland in their Sheffield Shield clash against South Australia, Khawaja decided to enforce the follow-on with the Redbacks trailing by 197 runs after the first innings.
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The decision was the right one for the situation in the game, however Khawaja could have easily opted to bat again in an attempt to score some runs and impress Test selectors.
Instead, Khawaja handed Travis Head - his opposition captain and the man fighting for the same spot in the Test side - the chance to do exactly that.
And Head grasped the opportunity with both hands, scoring a brilliant century that will give Test selectors plenty of food for thought.
Khawaja's selfless decision may backfire on a personal level, as he's thought to be vying with Head for Australia's vacant No.5 slot for the Ashes opener against England.
The follow-on all-but guaranteed Queensland the win, however it looked like costing Khawaja another chance to press his Ashes case.
Luckily for the former Test star, he was back in the middle on Friday and made a quick-fire 52 not out off 36 balls to continue his fine run of form.
Despite Head's heroics, South Australia were bowled out for 284 in their second innings with Bulls paceman Gurinder Sandhu claiming 6-47.
Sandhu, after collecting his best first-class figures and first five-wicket haul since his debut Shield game for NSW eight years ago, praised Khawaja's follow-on decision.
"He's a captain that puts his team first, that is amazing and probably a reason he is the captain," Sandhu said.
"He's not a selfish person at all. It (the follow-on) was what the team wanted and he must have felt the same."
Fans and commentators also praised Khawaja's team-first move and felt for the unlucky star.
It doesn’t quite work that way but the records will state that Usman Khawaja enforced the follow-on and that led to Travis Head potentially winning their “bat-off” with a very timely and classy century #SheffieldShield
— Bharat Sundaresan (@beastieboy07) November 25, 2021
Head gets a timely and impressive second century of the #SheffieldShield season. But only after Khawaja’s positive intent in enforcing the follow-on. It means he won’t get another opportunity to make a big score himself, but it’s an impressive, selfless action from the skipper.
— Adam White (@White_Adam) November 25, 2021
Selfless, team first mentality. Massive respect for that
— Mick Jackel (@MickJackel) November 25, 2021
Khawaja- easily top 6 batsman in Australia, genuine good guy, has always put Australian cricket first, plays to win without the histrionics, super intelligent, well spoken, players look up to him, student of the game, captained winning shield sides. How isn’t he captain already?
— Benjamin Hearn (@benny_hearn) November 25, 2021
Hey @Alanis THIS IS IRONIC
QLD captain Usman Khawaja does the right thing for his side and forces SA to follow on.
Travis Head comes out and scores a century for SA.
Khawaja improved his chances of becoming Test captain but hurt his chances of actually getting picked #Ashes
— Liam Flanagan (@ljflannas) November 25, 2021
Queensland record big victory over South Australia
Both Khawaja (four) and Head (eight) failed in the first innings at Karen Rolton Oval.
Head made amends in his second dig, reaching his second ton of the Shield season from 146 balls faced with 11 fours.
But the SA skipper, who also cracked 230 in a one-day match last month, fell just three balls later.
Batting first, Queensland posted 299 with Test star Marnus Labuschagne top-scoring with 110.
They then recorded a comfortable eight-wicket win on Friday, reaching 2-88 with Khawaja and Labuschagne (28 not out off 46 balls) guiding them home.
"I'm going to be 100 per cent honest with you, it's not even on my mind right now," Khawaja said of his shootout with Head.
"I'm honestly just trying to win games for Queensland and whatever will be, will be.
"Heady deserves it as much as I do. I'm really good mates with him. I have got no issues with whatever happens."
Khawaja and Head have both scored two Shield tons this season, with the Bulls skipper also posting two half-centuries and Head scoring one.
The 34-year-old Khawaja, whose last Test was in August 2019, said his mind was at ease, when in the past he would have been anxious about possible Test selection.
"I wasn't always mellow," he said.
"This is experience ... I have just come to realise after a long time of a lot of work with myself and my mind and just learning about myself, it (being anxious) just doesn't help.
"The best time I play is when I am relaxed.
"And, to be honest I have got a lot of things in life that I am very grateful for and those are the things now that I focus on.
"Because I know within the cricket bubble how much it can get you and that is how I used to be - it has taken years and years of practice to not be that way."
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