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Australia unbackable on Boxing Day as Khawaja returns from injury

AUSTRALIA batsman Usman Khawaja has declared himself fully fit for the Boxing Day Test against the West Indies, insisting his hamstring problems are a thing of the past.

Having notched back-to-back hundreds against New Zealand in Brisbane and Perth, the 28-year-old was promptly ruled out of action for the Adelaide and Hobart Test matches after pulling up short in the outfield at the WACA.

But if there were any concerns about Khawaja’s form running dry during his month on the sidelines, they were well and truly dispelled on Sunday night.

The classy left-hander announced his return in the most emphatic fashion, smashing 109 off 70 balls in Sydney Thunder’s one-run win over Melbourne Stars in the Big Bash League.

Khawaja now appears a certainty to regain his place for the Melbourne Test, and online bookmaker CrownBet.com has him at $8 odds to take out the man of the match award.

“I’m stoked I got some batting time,” Khawaja told the press on Monday.

“To score a hundred in a T20 game is not an easy thing to do, so I’m just very happy with how things are working out. But there’s still a lot of work to do so I’m trying to keep my head down.”

The Pakistan-born batsman showed no signs of any lingering hamstring issues as he carried his bat through the Thunder’s innings at the MCG, running hard for singles and twos on those few occasions he failed to find the ropes.

“I feel really good, just normal, general soreness… I pushed myself pretty hard, in terms of my hammy rehab, in terms of my running, in terms of my conditioning work,” Khawaja continued.

“My hamstrings are definitely stronger than they have been in the last three years. The last testing I had to do on Friday was a hamstring strength test and my hamstrings came up stronger than they have been in the last three years.

“I did a lot of hard work in the last four weeks. The trainers up at the NCC [National Cricket Centre] pushed me pretty hard. That’s what I needed to do. That’s all I can control.”

Khawaja’s fitness and obvious form poses an uncomfortable selection dilemma ahead of the second Test against the West Indies.

Competition for places has rather tightened in his absence, with Shaun Marsh – the man called up to fill the void – making an extremely strong case to keep his spot.

The West Australian lefty belted 182 in a record-breaking stand with Adam Voges in the Hobart Test, but many pundits – including former Australian captain Ricky Ponting – have said Marsh should be the man to make way.

Others have suggested Khawaja could open the batting in place of his Queensland teammate, Joe Burns, who has failed to pass 40 in his last five Test innings.

Prior to his BBL return last weekend, the former New South Wales player told the media he had no qualms about where he slotted in for the Baggy Greens.

“It doesn’t bother me batting anywhere in the top six, I wouldn’t want to bat seven,” Khawaja said.

“I’m easy, in first-class cricket I’ve batted every position from one to six. If they wanted me to bat one, three, five, I’ll still approach the game in the same sort of manner. That’s not a big deal to me.

“There’s been plenty of times where I’ve been there the second ball batting, there’s not a big difference batting three or opening at times, at other times there is. Sometimes I can be in there in the 30th over batting at three, but it’s just a mindset sort of thing.

“I grew up all my life opening; I started playing for NSW at five and six, so I’ve had a bit of both.”

Khawaja betting specials at CrownBet.com

Man of the match – $8

Top Australian runscorer (first innings) – $4.75

To score 50 (first innings) – $2.15

To score 100 (first innings) – $4.25

Over 85.5 player performance points – $1.88