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Usman Khawaja's latest batting heroics for Queensland in the Sheffield Shield have done enough to secure his spot in Australia's Test squad for the upcoming Ashes series, according to Aussie great Brett Lee.
Khawaja further boosted his Ashes credentials with a Shield half-century that lit up the cricket world on a day when his teammates crumbled at the Gabba.
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Khawaja's 70 saved the Bulls from complete embarrassment against Western Australia, who rolled the hosts for just 129 in their first innings after winning the toss.
WA reached 2-108 in reply at stumps on Wednesday, with talented allrounder and long-term Test prospect Cameron Green unbeaten on 48 alongside Josh Philippe (36 not out).
In overcast conditions on a green deck that favoured the bowlers, many good judges felt as though Khawaja's 70 was as good as a century, after WA skipper Shaun Marsh won the toss and sent the Bulls in to bat.
Khawaja came to the crease with Queensland reeling at 2-8 after WA quick Joel Paris removed opener Bryce Street and Test No.3 Marnus Labuschagne (both ducks) in consecutive balls.
He grafted to lunch and then took the long handle to the WA attack while batting with the tail.
Usman Khawaja continues to build an irresistible case for Ashes selection, defying the demons of a Gabba green top to save the Bulls in the Sheffield Shield. @AdamJackson_9 #9News pic.twitter.com/wkXmvJ60rD
— 9News Queensland (@9NewsQueensland) November 10, 2021
Khawaja, who has hit two Shield centuries already this season, was the last to fall when he was caught at fine leg off Lance Morris - the pick of the WA quicks with 4-21.
The 34-year-old earlier this week brushed off criticism from former Test captain Ian Chappell, who said Khawaja was a "good player against mediocre bowling" but would struggle against England.
Khawaja hasn't played in a Test for Australia since being dropped for Labuschagne midway through the 2019 Ashes series and the classy left-hander appears to be locked in a battle with Victoria's Marcus Harris for an opening spot alongside David Warner.
Harris has also hit a century in the Sheffield Shield this season and been in tremendous form in England county cricket, but registered scores of one and a duck in his most recent batting audition against NSW last week.
Speaking about Khawaja's chances of replacing the incumbent Harris at the top of the Aussie order for the Ashes series, fast bowling great Brett Lee says the Queensland batsman should be considered a lock.
“I think they (Australian selectors) have to pick him," Lee said on Fox Sports.
"Pick the guy in form, pick the guy who is scoring runs. He’s done it before (opening for Australia) so why not do it again?”
'Shootout' between Usman Khawaja and Marcus Harris
Fellow Aussie Test great Mark Waugh said Khawaja was building an irresistible case to earn a Test recall.
“He is a big chance. Two hundreds, today he got 70 out of 129. That’s over half the runs, when I went to school,” Waugh joked.
“He’s batting well.
“I think it’s a shootout between the two. Marcus Harris coming off 0 and 1 against NSW in the recent Shield match didn’t help his cause. If he made runs, he might have been just in front of Khawaja. They’ve both got one more Shield match each.”
WA's reply to the Bulls' total started awfully as Cameron Bancroft was dismissed by Neser in the first ball of their innings.
Teenage debutant Jayden Goodwin, the son of former Zimbabwe international Murray Goodwin who played 71 ODIs and 19 Tests, was undone by Gurinder Sandhu for 10.
But Green, coming off scores of 68 and 31 not out in WA's six-wicket win over South Australia, steadied the ship in an 89-run partnership with Philippe.
He also took 1-25 from eight overs with the ball.
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