Just like starting over
Sydney, New South Wales
As the old guard fall and fail, Australia's young guns are being marched to the front and exposed to the English arsenal.
Few are escaping unscathed but some are proving more resolute under fire than others.
Here, on the first day at the SCG, the series in desperate need of saving, it was the turn of Usman Khawaja to be called to action.
There have been easier debuts. It was gloomy overhead, damp under foot, more Sydenham than Sydney. There have been easier boots to fill than Ricky Ponting's, who was watching on from the home dressing room like the fading star who cannot tear himself from the stage.
Khawaja's fellow tyro Phillip Hughes had gone to the final ball before lunch, leaving his mate with an entire interval to fiddle with his napkin and push sandwiches anxiously around his plate. His parents sat motionless in the old green-roofed pavilion, 43,000 other spectators in this famous old ground hurrying back to their seats to see the new number three earn his stripes.
Khawaja showed his class during his innings of 37. Photo: Getty Images
As opening salvos in Test cricket go, it was quite something. His first ball from Chris Tremlett, a fullish one on middle and leg, was tucked away through midwicket for two to appreciate murmurs from all around. His second, shorter and sharper, was pulled in a flash through the same slots for four. Controlled and classy, accompanied all the way by cheers and raucous applause.
Tremlett pushed a tempter across him. He left it and nudged the next delivery he faced away for one more.
Tremlett turned and came in with heels kicking high. This time he found the edge. But Khawaja had let the ball come to bat rather than the other way round and greeted it with the softest of handshakes. It went straight to Graeme Swann at slip but comfortably on the bounce.
Ball six in Test cricket. Khawaja opened the face and ran the ball away through gully for two. Ball seven. Too full on the pads, got the treatment through midwicket for four. The next went wide the other way, was slapped down into the ground and over third slip, racing away to the fence for four more.
Eight balls faced, 15 runs scored. Khawaja, a qualified pilot, was flying. The SCG, quiet throughout an attritional morning session, was alive.
Nowhere was it living the drama quite so intently as in the two wooden seats supporting the young blade's parents.
Father Tariq, who had brought the family over from Islamabad when Usman was three years old, was outwardly calm, radio earpiece in and eyes on the middle. His wife was not. Rocking in her chair, twisting the rings on her right hand, she appeared to be simultaneously loving and hating every second.
Her son has a reputation as a man who can play his shots. Growing up just down the road with posters of Adam Gilchrist and Shane Warne on his walls, he had scored six centuries at an average of 50 in his 27 first-class matches to date.
He can also dig in. England's seamers were keeping it tight, the clouds overhead providing enough juice for the ball to dart about nastily. Tremlett had conceded only 12 runs off seven earlier overs, James Anderson five off five.
The innings of Hughes acted as a cautionary tale. All twitching and scratches at the start, he had begun to drive and cut with increasing confidence before falling to a needless backfoot waft.
Khawaja had been given his initial opportunity in the New South Wales first team by a shoulder injury to Hughes. Once again, he looked ready to make the most of his chance.
When skipper Michael Clarke fell to Tim Bresnan for just four, slapping anxiously to gully to bring his already dismal average another few notches lower, Khawaja responded by pirouetting on his back peg to pull a good ball away for four. With heavy rain moving in fast from the west and the light fading, he seemed set for a second day.
Then, at the death, he gave it away, falling into the trap set by Andrew Strauss and top-edging an attempted sweep off Swann to square leg for 37. Even as he began his trudge back to the hutch, the rain began to fall.
Usman Khawaja's parents watch their son in action during the fifth Test. Photo: Getty Images
His mother shut her eyes and clasped her hands together. His father filmed it all on his video camera. Khawaja himself puffed out his cheeks and grimaced.
"I liked a lot of what we saw," said Test Match Special analyst Simon Hughes. "The little tuck for two to get off the mark was good, neat, composed. The second ball was more audacious, a bit of 'this is who I am', showing he had presence. It was a good shot - I think he was expecting it but he took it on, hit it well, kept it down, swivelled on it.
"It totally reminded me of David Gower's first ball in Test cricket, an almost identical shot but against a much better bowler than Liaqat Ali. Tremlett is an intimidating opponent. He then left the next one, which was pitched up, so immediately after three balls he's announced himself with a composed shot, a provocative one and a well-judged one."
When NSW skipper Simon Katich presented Khawaja with his state cap, having already given him his club one at their grade club, Randwick-Petersham, he said of the youngster: "I don't want to boast but I have been raving about him for some time."
"He looks a better player than both Hughes and Steve Smith," reckoned Hughes. "He showed good defensive capabilities, getting right forward, leaving the ball confidently. He put the bowlers on the back foot, made them start thinking more defensively. His reading of length also looked very good. He got a good stride in and got right over the top of the ball. He obviously wasn't at all overawed by the occasion.
"He was helped by the fact that he was playing on his home ground. Using the New South Wales dressing rooms, he would have felt at home. But he absolutely delivered and was looking like he was going to make a 50.
"He has a very low grip on the bat - you can see the top of the handle poking out of the top of his gloves - which means he plays with a lot of bottom hand. His grip suggests he's a puller and cutter - and he's predominantly going to be a square-of-the-wicket player - but he showed good judgement when driving it.
"There was a hint, just a hint, of Lara. It was the backlift - very high, the face of the bat pointing towards point. That was pure Lara. He played a good cut shot off Bresnan that was very Lara-esque."
Should he have survived to the close?
"That was a little bit of inexperience because Swann kept the man at square leg up to tempt him. It was just a bit too tight to sweep and Swann drifted the ball into him so it took the top edge. But he probably hasn't come up a bowler as good as Swann before."
Khawaja's late dismissal means Australia will start again on Tuesday morning on 134-4, neither here nor quite there.
They have a fine one-sided record at the SCG, winning 14 of their last 16 Tests here and every one of the last seven. This match is rather more in the balance.