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Khawaja defends ‘hero’ Warner after stinging Johnson criticism

Sydney (AFP) – Usman Khawaja jumped to the defence of his opening partner David Warner on Monday after stinging criticism of the veteran batsman from Australian great Mitchell Johnson.

Former fast bowler Johnson hit out after Warner kept his spot in Australia’s squad to face Pakistan in the first Test later this month despite a poor run of red-ball form.

The three-match home series against Pakistan is expected to be Warner’s farewell to Test cricket.

The decision to keep faith with Warner provoked a strong response from Johnson, who questioned why his former team-mate should be given a “hero’s send-off” in light of his poor Test form.

“Can somebody please tell me why?” he wrote in The West Australian newspaper at the weekend, also bringing up Warner’s central role in the notorious “Sandpaper-gate” ball-tampering scandal in 2018.

Steve Smith and Warner were both banned for a year for their part in the scandal, but Khawaja told reporters on Monday: “Davey Warner and Steve Smith are heroes in my mind.”

“No one’s perfect,” Khawaja added.

“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.”

The first Test against Pakistan in Perth starts on December 14, before the traditional Boxing Day Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, then Sydney, beginning January 3.

Warner has indicated he plans to quit the five-day game after the Test at his home Sydney Cricket Ground, but will continue in white-ball cricket.

Warner was in scintillating form at the recent 50-over World Cup, but he has scored just one Test century since early 2020 and averages only 28 since the 2019-2020 summer in Australia.

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