Test aspirant Khawaja starts Shield season

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Having become the forgotten man of Australia's batting stocks a year ago, Usman Khawaja is back on the radar of national selectors as he prepares to lead Queensland's Sheffield Shield title defence.

Khawaja hasn't played international cricket since being dropped during the 2019 Ashes tour.

But the stylish left-hander, whose Bulls start their Shield campaign against Tasmania in Brisbane on Tuesday, is believed to be one of several candidates firmly in the mix for a Test recall before this summer's Ashes.

Steve Smith, Marnus Labuschagne and David Warner were the only Test batsmen allocated national contracts for 2021-22, underlining the selectors' lack of certainty about what remains an unsettled top six.

Partnering Warner shapes as perhaps the 34-year-old Khawaja's best hope of a call-up - especially given Will Pucovksi is still yet to return to full fitness - but the veteran could also slot into the middle order.

"I don't try to look too far ahead. If I do, I know that's when I've always stuffed up," Khawaja said.

"If I'm thinking about myself and not the team, I've never been in a good spot.

"I'm just focusing on Queensland, trying to win cricket games.

"If I'm doing that consistently then the rest will look after itself, if the timing is right. If not, so be it."

Pucovski, Joe Burns, Matthew Wade and Marcus Harris all had stints at the top of the order during Australia's Test series loss to India in 2020-21.

Coming Shield matches will dictate who is elevated to the Test XI, with aspirants from Queensland, Tasmania, Western Australia and South Australia starting their push before locked-down rivals from NSW and Victoria.

Cricket Australia, having been in dialogue with multiple state governments while trying to find a temporary home for two Shield squads, is hopeful there will be a circuit breaker soon.

Khawaja will confront a depleted Tasmania XI at the redeveloped Ian Healy Oval.

Test skipper Tim Paine is recovering from neck surgery, while former Test paceman Jackson Bird, Jake Doran and Riley Meredith are also unavailable because of injuries.

Nathan Ellis is playing in the Indian Premier League.

Captain Matthew Wade, part of Australia's squad for the Twenty20 World Cup that starts next month but dropped from the Test squad earlier this year, and Peter Siddle headline the visiting squad that has been preparing on the Gold Coast.

Queensland have included Labuschagne, Burns, Matthew Renshaw, Mitchell Swepson and Michael Neser in a 12-man squad.

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