USMAN Khawaja once again made a strong case to take up Ricky Ponting's place in the Australian Test team with a polished 85 from 102 balls in his side's 30-run win over NSW yesterday.
Khawaja and opening partner Chris Hartley (87) shared a 154-run first-wicket stand in the Ryobi Cup match at Manuka Oval, putting the hosts up against the ropes early, before the Bulls posted a competitive 6-292.
Khawaja has enjoyed a solid domestic summer since making the move north from NSW, averaging 51.40 in the one-day format from five innings, and 36.67 from nine Sheffield Shield attempts.
The 25-year-old gave his former teammate Steve Smith a chance at backward point in just the fifth over, but Smith couldn't hold the chance, before going on to hit 10 fours with some fine off and on-drives.
Ben Cutting rubbed salt into the Blues' wounds, with the big-hitter promoted to No.3 and living up to his reputation by cracking three sixes on his way to 39 from 32 balls.
Another former Blues batsman Peter Forrest (23 not out from 18) and Joe Burns (32 from 25) ensured NSW would need to score at almost a run a ball to win.
That chase got off to a shaky start after Alister McDermott removed former Test wicketkeeper-batsman Brad Haddin for 15, with the score at 35.
Nic Maddinson and Steve Smith then fell in quick succession, with the scores at 52 and 57 respectively.
When opening batsman Scott Henry (65) fell caught behind to the impressive Cameron Gannon (5-38) at 5-127, and Gannon removed the in-form Moises Henriques (22) one run later, the game was as good as over.
Blues legspinner Adam Zampa (1-37 from five overs) had some expensive figures, but he will remember his Ryobi Cup debut for removing Hartley, who was stumped by Haddin.
The Blues mounted some late resistance through Ben Rohrer (80 off 60) and Joshua Lalor (26 off 25), before Gannon dismissed them both to end with a five-wicket haul.
The Bulls' win cemented their position in third place as they look to squeeze into the top two, where Victoria and South Australia currently sit.
Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.