Sydney: Usman Khawaja showed in his poised Test initiation against England that he could play a leading role in the revival of Australia`s cricket fortunes.
Pakistan-born Khawaja, the first Muslim to play for his adopted country, captivated a nation downcast by its national team`s Ashes downfall with his accomplished knock of 37 in the final Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
Far from being intimidated by the occasion, Khawaja, 24, whipped six runs off his first two deliveries and defied the English attack for two hours and 95 balls to star for the transitional Australian team.
One of two debutants, Khawaja, who came to Australia when he was three, displayed his technique and confidence to make a sound impression as injured Ricky Ponting`s replacement in the demanding number three batting position.
He savoured his time in the spotlight to help Australia reach 134 for four at the close of a rain-interrupted opening day.
"I had a ball out there. I just wanted to stay out there as long as I could," Khawaja said.
"It was a good start. I got all the anxiousness out of my system. I was just loving being out there in the middle.”
"You never want to get out, especially the last ball of the day as it turned out to be. I`d like to be 37 not out overnight, but that`s cricket. All you can do is learn from it."
Khawaja`s mature knock ended when he top-edged a sweep off spinner Graeme Swann to Jonathan Trott at backward square leg. It was to be the last ball of the day before the rain swept in.
Asked about how he envisaged his playing future, Khawaja said: "Obviously, I`d love to have a long Test career.”
"I`d like to play cricket, especially for Australia, as long as possible but I`m taking Ricky Ponting`s spot, who is probably the greatest Australian batsman bar Don Bradman, so I`m just enjoying this Test match right now and trying to savour everything I can."
Khawaja said he was an emotional mess when he was presented with his baggy green cap by former Test captain Mark Taylor before the start of play.
"I was probably most emotional when I got my baggy green in the morning," he admitted.
"I was just ecstatic at that point. When I shook his (Taylor`s) hand and got the baggy green, that`s probably the most I can remember at the moment.”
"After I got that, I sort of calmed down a little. Unfortunately (Phillip) Hughes got out just before lunch.”
"I literally barely thought about batting for the first 20 minutes of lunch. Tried to sleep. Just lying down in the change room.”
"I got up, 10 minutes before we went out there, got myself ready again.”
"As soon as I got out there, it just felt like the best thing ever. I was playing for Australia and the crowd was right behind me, so it was awesome."
Khawaja said he gave more significance to being the first Pakistan-born player to play for Australia rather than his religion.
"It`s probably being the first Pakistani-born to play for Australia that is probably more than my religious beliefs because they`re quite personal to me," he said.
"To me, the part that I`m Pakistani-born playing for Australia is more significant."
He looked so assured while batting that he gave the appearance of someone with so much more Test experience than as a debutant before a 40,000 SCG crowd.
"I was pretty much playing each ball as it came. I wanted to get off the mark, first thing.”
"Lucky it happened first ball. Next ball I hit a four, (so) I let my shoulders drop after that.”
"I didn`t really have a plan of going out that hard, it just ended up being that way."