Usman Khawaja has fired back at Mitchell Johnson's criticism of Test teammate David Warner, declaring his opening partner is "a hero" who has paid his dues for the Sandpaper-gate scandal.
Former fast bowler Johnson said his old teammate Warner did not deserve to be given a farewell in the third Test of the summer series against Pakistan.
Johnson said Warner had not taken full responsibility for his role in the Sandpaper-gate affair in South Africa in 2018 that earned him a 12-month ban.
He questioned "why a player at the centre of one of the biggest scandals in Australian cricket history warrants a hero's send-off".
Khawaja said he "strongly disagreed" with Johnson's column in the West Australian newspaper, adding Warner and former skipper Steve Smith, who was also banned for a year, had paid for their mistakes.
"Davey Warner and Steve Smith are heroes in my mind," Khawaja said.
"They missed a year of cricket through dark times in Australian cricket but they have paid their dues.
"No one is perfect. Mitchell Johnson isn't perfect. I am not perfect. Steve Smith is not perfect. David Warner isn't perfect.
"What they have done for the game and to grow the game far outweighs anything else they have done.
"So for (Johnson) to imply that Dave Warner or anyone else involved in Sandpaper-(gate) is not a hero I strongly disagree with because I believe they have paid their dues."
Warner is yet to respond to the explosive remarks but his manager James Erskine has called Johnson "ignorant".
"This reminds me of backseat drivers, they're bloody annoying, and quite frankly, we don't need it," Erskine told SEN.
"He (Johnson) is basically making comments that I think are incendiary.
"Come up with an alternative solution, pal.
"If he thinks basically thinks three people did Sandpaper-gate, then he should go to the moon for holiday. I mean, it's just a joke."
Khawaja also disagreed with Johnson's comments about chairman of selectors George Bailey being too close to Warner.
He said Bailey had brought a "breath of fresh air" to the role.
Under Bailey's chairmanship, Australia have won the 2021-22 Ashes and retained them in 2023, and have been victorious in the 2021 T20 World Cup, this year's World Test Championship and ODI World Cup.
"'I'm not sure you can argue with that. (The criticism) is harsh," Khawaja said.
Khawaja also praised the influence of Andrew McDonald, although he did respond to the coach' floating Marnus Labuschagne as an option to replace Warner as an opener in the Test team.
"Have you asked Marnus this? I think he would give you a really clear, 'hell no'," Khawaja said.
"Marnus has got opening-itis. I am pretty sure Davey Warner hurt his arm and sent Alex Carey out to open. I think that is a long shot."
Khawaja said he had no preference about who got the gig but made the point it should be a regular opener.
Cameron Bancroft, Matt Renshaw and Marcus Harris are all in contention.
"Opening is not easy. I can tell you that because I have batted No.1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 for Australia and opening is by far the hardest," Khawaja said.
"It is very hard to bring somewhere up there that hasn't opened.
"I am positive if you put Marnus up there he would do very well but would he do as well as he does at No.3?"
Australian Associated Press