Australia's Usman Khawaja celebrates after scoring 150 runs during the fifth Ashes Test against England in July. Photo: EPA/DAVID MOIR

DURBAN - Usman Khawaja ran into Morne Morkel on the staircase, just after the South African paceman had announced that he was playing in his final series for his country.

Naturally, Khawaja was full of praise for the departing Morkel. They have crossed paths on the field of play before, and the Aussie number three said he had always found the departing destroyer to be a top bloke.

“He is a world-class bowler, and has been for a long time now. He is also a great bloke, and has always been friendly when we met,” Khawaja reflected.

Morkel had expressed a desire to play in leagues around the world on a short-term basis, and Khawaja was sharp on the trigger, giving him an immediate option.

“I have already told him that Queensland has a great stadium, so he is more than welcome to come,” he quipped. 

Before that, of course, the pair will lock horns over the next five weeks, as the Test series kicks off in Durban on Thursday. 

Morkel will be doing his utmost to help South Africa secure a first win on home soil since readmission, while Khawaja will look to be the anchor upon which the visitors build formidable totals.

Of interest to both will be the surfaces that they are given to play, especially after the fiery pitches that greeted India’s visit.

“The pitches in South Africa are quite similar to what we have back home. You find that they change a lot from state to state,” Khawaja pointed out.

“We know that The Wanderers normally has pace and bounce, and Cape Town nips around a bit. I have never played in Port Elizabeth before, but I heard it’s a good batting wicket. It will be interesting to see what wicket we get here,” he said, peering onto the middle at Kingsmead.

The expectation is that the coastal tracks will be a lot calmer than those prepared for India, given Australia’s own pace potency. If they were to be let loose on something akin to The Wanderers strip for the third Test against India, carnage would ensue.

The last time the Aussies were here, in 2011, Pat Cummins introduced himself to the world with a seven-wicket haul at the Bullring, in a stunning, two-wicket win for the Aussies.

He was just 18 at the time, and his raw pace and skill set suggested great things were to come. “Yeah, Pat’s career has had some real ups and downs,” Khawaja bemoaned.

Unfortunately, the downs have been the results of devastating injuries, which have limited him to just a handful of Test caps. In the Ashes, however, Cummins was a cut above, taking on the role of enforcer, and bullying English batsmen.

SA know that they will have their hands full against him, whether he has a bat or ball in his hand. So it is just as well that the pitches anticipated for the first two Tests are a touch drier, and not tailored for wrecking balls like the ruthless Cummins.

The Mercury

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