Usman Khawaja has won widespread praise for his captaincy in the Brisbane Heat's thrilling win over the Hobart Hurricanes in the BBL on Friday night. The Heat have surged to fifth on the Big Bash League ladder after a 12-run win for their third-straight victory.
After making 163 while batting first, the Heat looked to be headed for a comfortable victory until Tim David blasted 20 runs off the 18th over. The Hurricanes needed 18 off the final over, and a red-hot David appeared ready to pull off an extraordinary victory.
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But the Heat's 27-year-old rookie bowler Spencer Johnson held his nerve, repaying the faith shown in him by Khawaja by only conceding six runs. Johnson produced three dot balls as David failed to find the boundary in the final six balls.
Johnson's heroics came after Khawaja's brilliant captaincy was highlighted while he was mic'd up for Fox Cricket. Khawaja tossed the ball to Johnson to bowl the 16th over, and things threatened go wrong for the rookie bowler when he produced two wides in a row.
But Khawaja kept his composure and was heard telling Johnson: “It’s all good. That’s fine. It’s a good miss. I feel like he knows what you’re gonna do now ... still bowl into the wicket, if he wants to take you on, he can take you on ... happy with that?”
Khawaja's ability to keep his cool rubbed off on Johnson, who went on to dismiss D'Arcy Short in the over while producing four dot balls. The Heat captain then made the gutsy call to throw the ball back to the inexperienced bowler for the final six deliveries, which also proved a masterstroke.
“I thought Khawaja was brilliant there. He’s been wonderful, his calmness as leader,” Adam Gilchrist said in commentary, describing his leadership as 'unbelievably good'. “I thought (Johnson) was beautifully nurtured by Khawaja, he bowled two wides at the top, you saw the plan Usman had presented to Spencer Johnson and he missed.
“But he didn’t panic, and Usman remained calm. Nothing overly aggressive by way of reaction, just a sense of calmness and now it’s allowing him to get all his skills out.”
Khawaja also made a key bowling change that led to the dismissal of gun Hurricanes batter Matthew Wade for 45. Gilchrist said: “I really like this captaincy. This is just a little surprise ambush here by Usman Khawaja."
Fans were also full of praise for Khawaja's captaincy. Some described the Test batter's leadership under pressure as 'incredible' and 'unbelievable'.
Brisbane Heat overtake struggling Adelaide Strikers
Michael Neser earned player of the match honours after taking 3-27, while James Bazley claimed the big Matthew. "I've changed my mindset a bit, to be more attacking and look to take wickets rather than go straight to defence," Neser, who has 18 wickets in 10 games this season, said.
Neser said Khawaja's return had been a key reason for the Heat's surge up the ladder, with his ability to keep Johnson calm and focused in the final over crucial. The Heat's win sees them jump the Hurricanes and flagging Adelaide Strikers into fifth on the ladder.
Earlier on Friday the Strikers suffered a humiliating loss to the Perth Scorchers after being bowled out for just 92. Aaron Hardie made 43 as the Scorchers won by seven wickets, chasing down the target with 53 deliveries to spare.
English import Adam Hose was the only Strikers batter to look remotely up to the task, top-scoring with 30. Matt Short was dismissed for a duck, captain Travis Head made nine and wicket-keeper Alex Carey one as they all succumbed meekly. After starring for Australia throughout the Test summer, Head has managed just 15 runs in the BBL at an average of five.
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