Usman Khawaja is a role model to many players from differing backgrounds.
Usman Khawaja is a role model to many players from differing backgrounds.

‘The team was very white’

VIEWED from a distance, there's not too many cricketers who appear as unflappable as Usman Khawaja.

In possession of an elegant yet laconic batting style, Uzzie has always looked unhurried at the crease as he went about accumulating runs ever since he first represented Australia in 2011.

But it would be wrong to assume his progression to cricket's pinnacle in this country has been as serene a journey as his laidback and fuss-free persona would have you otherwise believe.

Indeed, Khawaja has had to overcome more obstacles than most.

Born in Pakistan but raised in Sydney's west, all he wanted to do as a youngster was to fit in.

Admitting he wished he had the "surfie blonde hair" of so many of his school mates, Khawaja encountered a glass ceiling whenever he cast a covetous glance at the Australian cricket team.

"When I was growing up, people used to say 'look at the Australian team, you're never going to make that team'," Khawaja recalled. He'd ask them 'why not' and the answer he got was simple.

"You don't fit the mould.' That was people telling me inadvertently there was no one there playing … it was very white, being blunt, the team was very white.

 

Usman Khawaja celebrates a century against England at the SCG.
Usman Khawaja celebrates a century against England at the SCG.

 

"A lot of people from the subcontinent found it hard to think they could break into that team just because no one else had."

But Khawaja defied those expectations when he strode out to bat at the SCG in 2011 after being anointed as the great Ricky Ponting's successor.

He scored a modest 37 that innings but he has, for the most part, been a fixture at the top of Australia's batting order to forge a path for those others who don't necessarily fit the mould.

And, bit by bit, cricketers of South Asian descent are starting to make a name for themselves.

Ashton Agar, Fawad Ahmed, Gurinder Singh and Clive Rose have all made their mark at either first class level in Australia or in the BBL, while three promising young NSW Blues prospects in Arjun Nair, Param Uppal and Jason Sangha are the next generation in waiting.

As for Khawaja, being a latter-day trail blazer means little to him - other than the joy he gets out of seeing potential fulfilled, especially if their path has been an arduous one.

"I have so much respect for the guys that are different and are doing so much when they're young," Khawaja said. "I'm the first person to go up to someone that's different and say that's awesome, you do what makes you happy and be the person you want to be.

"I love that. It fills me with pride."



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