Australia’s Usman Khawaja, along with Alex Carey, played a big role in their team posting a defendable total against New Zealand in their last ICC World Cup game at Lord’s on Saturday (June 29). Khawaja’s 88 off 129 balls was his second half-century of the tournament and the southpaw now believes that Australia can finish the league stages at the top of the points table.
With India losing their first match of the World Cup against England on Sunday (June 30), Australia can secure top spot on the standings with a win in their final group-stage game against South Africa at Old Trafford this weekend.
Faf du Plessis’ side are out of semi-finals contention having managed just two wins from their first eight games, with their struggles coming as something of a shock to Khawaja.
“A little bit, yeah,” Khawaja said when asked if South Africa’s woes had taken him by surprise. "They're a decent side. When I look at them on paper, they've got some experienced players with the bat. Obviously, you have (Kagiso) Rabada and Imran Tahir, some really good bowlers.
“It's just how it is sometimes in tournament play. You lose a couple and you don't get a roll at the right time. It doesn't mean you're a bad team, it's just how the cookie crumbles,” he told the media.
While it was all-too-late, South Africa notched their most impressive performance of the tournament in Durham last week in a nine-wicket win over Sri Lanka. Du Plessis and Hashim Amla stroked dominant half-centuries.
"They've got class batsmen in Amla and du Plessis batted wonderfully (against Sri Lanka)," Khawaja said.
"You can never take them too lightly, you can never take any international team too lightly … if you do it bites you on the backside. People talk about Bangladesh, I don't think they are the same Bangladesh they were four years ago, I think they are a really good side. And Afghanistan, they're definitely not the same Afghanistan side from four years ago.
"No international game is (a dead rubber). You're representing your country, it's still a game for Australia and still a World Cup game," he added.
In spite of a relatively slow innings last weekend, Khawaja has 298 runs in eight games at the World Cup with a strike-rate of 86.62 batting in the middle-order. The left-hander believed that the Lord’s pitch for their game against the Black Caps suited his role as a top-order anchor.
“I tried to drive a couple and (the ball) hit the stickers and hit high on the bat, so straight away I knew it wouldn't be as nice as some of the other wickets we played on,” Khawaja said.
“Then it was just trying to stay in there and score runs. I was just trying to bat out there and take it as deep as possible. I would much rather bat on a nicer wicket and score more freely. I'm in the team to score runs.
“We lost a few wickets today, so we just had to take it deep and make as many partnerships as we could with batsmen coming in,” the southpaw added.