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'He's 100 per cent' – Paine says Khawaja in line to play Ashes opener

Australia news

Tim Paine, the Australia captain, believes top-order batsman Usman Khawaja will be fully fit before the first Ashes Test, which begins on 1 August in Birmingham.

Khawaja was sidelined at the World Cup after suffering a hamstring strain during Australia's 10-run loss to South Africa in the last round-robin fixture on 6 July. However, the left-hand batsman, who scored a match-winning 171 in the last Ashes Test between the two sides in Sydney in January 2018, has convinced his skipper of his fitness.

"He's 100 per cent. He was running a little bit between the wickets, not at full intensity," said Paine. "But Usman has been playing a lot of cricket, he has been over here for months. It wasn't ideal he didn't play in this game, but I think he's going to be fit and available for selection next week."

The 32-year old was seen doing fitness work with support staff after the early completion of a four-day practice game between Hick XII and Haddin XII. He then did a few batting drills alongside Paine.

There was an injury scare from Mitchell Starc as well after he was sent for a scan due to a sore knee on the second day of the match. However, he returned to the field on Thursday to allay fears, bowling eight successive overs in the concluding phase of the game, dismissing Mitchell Marsh.

With Pat Cummins in the mix, and James Pattinson impressing with a 3/19 in the second innings, Paine faces serious selection challenges in the bowling unit.

Video cwc19 25 Jun 19
CWC 19: Mitchell Starc and the Art of bowling fast

"Pattinson was outstanding again, he has been for the whole Australia A tour," Paine said. "But he took it up a gear in this game, particularly in that second innings. He's starting to get really excited about what might be ahead of him in the next week or so."

The wicket-keeper also praised the experienced duo of Josh Hazlewood and Starc, who had bagged 43 wickets between them in Australia's 4-1 Ashes triumph at home in 2017-18. "Both bowled really well today," Paine said. "Every time Josh has bowled in a match, he has got better and better ... he is going to be a key bowler for us at stages during this Ashes.

"Starcy is coming off a lot of white-ball cricket. [It] takes a little bit of time to adjust. But he'll be working hard next week. When he's on song, he will be playing a huge role in these Ashes."

Australia's selection committee, led by chairman Trevor Hohns, is expected to name a squad of 16 or 17 players for the five-match series on Friday.

While the experienced duo of Steve Smith and David Warner are all set to play their first Test since March 2018, Cameron Bancroft too has put himself in contention following a match-winning 93* in the fourth innings of the practice match.

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