Usman Khawaja has praised the current leadership group of the Australian cricket team, while re-opening old wounds around previous set-ups under Mickey Arthur and Justin Langer. Speaking to The Age this week, the veteran batter opened up on how the current environment under coach Andrew McDonald and captain Pat Cummins is vastly different to the past 10 years.
Khawaja said McDonald and Cummins - as well as chief selector George Bailey - were much more in touch with how the players need to mentally refresh and take some of the load off at times throughout the year. The 36-year-old was rested for the first few Sheffield Shield games this summer after a gruelling year which included Test tours of India and England.
The opening batter said regimes of the past would never have prioritised mental fitness and insisted he played every Shield game in the lead-up to the Test summer. In an explosive interview, Khawaja declared previous leaders didn't show enough respect to the mental side of the game and the toll that playing Test cricket takes.
"They didn't respect how hard Test cricket is mentally," he said, re-opening some old wounds around Arthur's time in charge and the homework-gate controversy of 2013. Khawaja, Shane Watson, Mitchell Johnson and James Pattinson were all stood down during a tour of India for failing to submit a written 'homework' task that Arthur and then-captain Michael Clarke had requested of the players.
Khawaja said the incredible success of the national team this year in retaining the Ashes in England, winning the World Test Championship, as well as the ODI World Cup, was down to the relaxed approach of McDonald and Cummins. "I think Patty and especially Andrew and George understand how hard it is to be able to mentally perform at international level," he said.
"I don't think the guys would have been able to perform at the international level the way they have this year if it wasn't for those people at the top. I know for a fact that they have worked hard at taking the load off, taking the pressure off, taking the stress off, and letting the players play at their best for as long as possible. The little things that don't matter do not matter – we're not there to box tick."
Usman Khawaja takes thinly-veiled swipe at Justin Langer
Khawaja, who is known to have clashed with Langer during his time as head coach, bemoaned the fact that players were forced to do "pointless" warm-ups and other tasks that didn't make sense considering the game situation. The veteran said players would have been savaged by coaches if they tried to rest during a Test match five years ago (Langer started as a coach in 2018), but sleeping while not on the field is encouraged now.
"Five years ago, if I was sleeping during a cricket game, I'd get absolutely scolded," he said. "A Test match is five days, it's tough work, but 'what are you doing sleeping during a game, wake up'. Now with Patty or anyone, if someone is sleeping during the game, no one says a word.
"Even the smallest things like warm-ups, getting you ready to play the game. That takes that little bit of mental strength. Every day you don't have to wake up dreading doing a warm-up you don't want to do. If I nicked off the day before, and I'm not batting, why do I need to do a warm-up? I don't need to warm up until we go out and field again."
Khawaja even made the staggering claim that players are "being treated like adults" for the first time in a long time. 'The Test' documentary on Amazon Prime captured a number of run-ins between Khawaja and Langer, with the former stating that players were "always walking on eggshells" around the coach because of his intense approach.
Langer eventually lost the dressing room and stepped down from the role when he was only offered a six-month contract extension by Cricket Australia. McDonald became head coach as a result and the playing group got the men they wanted.
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