Is Ussie Being Groomed For The Aussie Test Captaincy?

The big question is whether this is a sign of things to come.

Aussie batsman Usman Khawaja has been named captain of the Australian team to take on Derbyshire, in what is essentially a practice match ahead of next week's fourth Ashes Test at Old Trafford in Manchester.

The team is: Usman Khawaja (c), Cameron Bancroft, Alex Carey (wk), Marcus Harris, Marnus Labuschagne, Mitch Marsh, Michael Neser, Peter Siddle, Steve Smith, Mitch Starc, Matthew Wade.

As you can see, regular Test captain Tim Paine is being rested. And while Steve Smith is playing in this practice match, he is banned from leadership roles until April 2020 as a secondary ball-tampering punishment.

Enter Ussie, who has actually has led major cricket teams before. He has been captain of Queensland in state cricket -- when he's not been required for national duties -- since 2015.

Ussie, Ussie, Ussie, Oi! Oi! Oi! Image: Getty.

He also once captained Australia A -- essentially a team of Test players in-waiting -- on a successful tour of India.

And while this week's match is not an international this will still be Khawaja's first time captaining an actual team called "Australia". Which begs the question: is he just filling a gap, or is he being seriously considered as our next Test captain?

Cricket fans have long been divided over Khawaja, a man who undoubtedly has a big heart -- witness his gritty, defiant match-saving 141 against Pakistan in October last year -- but who doesn't wear that heart on his sleeve. To many, he seems a slightly removed, unemotional sort of character.

READ MORE: How Usman Khawaja Saved The Aussie Summer

Teammates swear this is not the case, but perceptions are important to fans. And those same fans are of course quite rightly concerned about Khawaja's recent batting struggles.

While the 32-year-old has an excellent overall Test average of 40 from 44 matches with eight centuries, he's made just one century and one half-century in 18 innings since that Pakistan epic. In short, he's in a bit of a form slump.

There's some talk he'll take Marcus Harris' opening spot in the next Test -- he has been successful opening the batting before -- although there's also talk he may not even be selected. The latter scenario seems unlikely.

Importantly, Aussie coach Justin Langer likes Khawaja. He likes his temperament, seeing him not as disinterested, but as calm and thoughtful.

There is no suggestion that Test skipper Tim Paine will be dropped during an Ashes series, even though he's having his own struggles with the bat.

READ MORE: Tim Paine's A Great Guy, But That Doesn't Mean You Can't Bag Him

But with summer looming, and with wicket keeper batsman Alex Carey waiting in the wings to pounce on Paine's spot, it's likely that selectors have en eye to the future.

Appointing Usman Khawaja captain for this minor tour match might be a meaningless move in the big picture. Then again, it might not.