‘Paid their dues’: Usman Khawaja defends David Warner after Mitchell Johnson attack

Usman Khawaja has declared it would be a mistake to move Marnus Labuschagne to the top of Australia’s batting order, saying a specialist opener should replace David Warner when the veteran retires from Test cricket next month.

Khawaja made the call as he launched a staunch defence of his opening partner Warner in the wake of a withering spray from former Test quick Mitchell Johnson.

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Johnson wrote in a newspaper column that Warner doesn’t deserve a guaranteed Test farewell against Pakistan next month at the SCG due to his role in the 2018 ball-tampering scandal which led to him and Steve Smith being suspended for a year, and Cameron Bancroft copping a nine-month ban.

“Davey Warner and Steve Smith are heroes in my mind,” Khawaja said.

“They missed a year of cricket … they’ve paid their dues.

“No-one’s perfect. Mitchell Johnson isn’t perfect, I’m not perfect, Steven Smith isn’t perfect, David Warner isn’t perfect.

“What they’ve done for the game from a positive point of view … far outweighs anything else they’ve done., so for (Johnson) to imply that Davey Warner or anyone else involved in the sandpaper (scandal), is not a hero, I strongly disagree with that.”

Should Warner, as expected, play the three-match series against Pakistan before retiring from the Test arena, Khawaja will need a new opening partner for Australia’s Test series against West Indies, which starts on January 17 in Adelaide.

A desire to fit all-rounders Mitch Marsh and Cameron Green both into the Test XI has led to suggestions that Labuschagne might be moved from the No.3 spot to an opening role.

However, Khawaja felt it would be better off keeping Labuschagne – who has previously been ranked the world’s best Test batsman – at No.3.

“Opening’s not easy. It’s tough work,” Khawaja said.

“I can tell you that because I’ve batted one, two, three, four, five and six for Australia. I’m telling you by far opening is the hardest, and it’s very hard to bring in someone who hasn’t opened.

“I’m positive if you put Marnus up there at opening, he would do very well, but would he do as well at opening as he does at three? I’m not sure. I wouldn’t want to take the risk.

“He averages 55 at three, and (No.4) Steve Smith averages 60, so you wouldn’t want to mess around with it too much.

“Opening can be a very, very tough thing to do, mentally more than physically. so I’m always a bit shy of letting people who haven’t opened much in the past open the batting.”

Khawaja – who added that Labuschagne would give a clear ‘hell no’ if asked if he wanted to open – felt a better move would be for either Bancroft, Marcus Harris or Matt Renshaw, the three top opening contenders from outside the Test team, to replace a departed Warner.

“Even if I did think one was better than the other, it’s so minuscule that it probably doesn’t matter so I think all three of those guys that are in contention to open the batting deserve it,” he said.

“We have so many openers to pick from. I don’t think there’s any point shifting around players for the sake of it.

“People are talking about that because of the Mitch Marsh-Cameron Green situation, but I think they’re both going for the same spot.

“You need to decide who the better player is for that game at that time, and then you worry about the rest of the team after that.”

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