Many people would be surprised to see the name of 23-year-old batsman Usman Khawaja in the Australian Test squad. But cricket is a game of records and firsts. Khawaja, who was born in Islamabad, will be the first Muslim player to be selected in Australian Test squad.
The selection becomes even more interesting as he would be playing against Pakistan, his country of birth. If he is selected in the final XI, he would go down in history as the first Muslim and first sub-continental player to have donned Australian colours.
Though Khawaja has come through the ranks, playing grade crickets for Australia, his selection is seen as little premature as Australia never throws a rookie into the Test arena. Even Khawaja, who has played only 19 first class matches for the state team New South Wales (NSW) so far, is also surprised by the call-up.
Those who have seen the left-handed Khawaja’s rise have always felt that he would make it big in the future. He has got ample time as a batsman and always seems assured with his timing and technique, a hallmark of a great Test match player.
Last summer, playing for NSW’s star-packed line-up, he scored 698 runs with three centuries at 63.45 in just seven games. Out of his three tons, two came in back-to-back matches with 132 against Queensland on a testing pitch at the Gabba, while 107 were earned in Newcastle.
His mid-season thumb injury prevented him from playing more matches for his state team. But those seven matches were enough for him to herald himself as the next big thing in Australian cricket.
However, things aren’t all peachy as his selection has already created a furore in Australian cricket. Nobody is denying the left-hander’s talent and ability. What surprises Australia’s cricketing circles is the timing of his selection. Most of them are not sure whether Usman is ready for the international call.
Unleashing a rookie who has just played 19 first class matches is not a typical Australian tradition. It may be a common phenomenon in India, Pakistan or in England, where cricketers come into the side at tender ages.
Australia’s selectors are generally not so adventurous while throwing a greenhorn into their Test squad. Batsmen like Mike Hussey and Matthew Hayden had to wait for a long time before they got to wear the Australian baggy green. Even a great cricketer like Adam Gilchrist had to cool his heels till late twenties and only played for the national Test team when he had more than hundred first-class matches in his kitty.
It’s not that batting talents have dried up Down Under. They have enough players in Australia’s domestic cricket who could replace injured Phillip Hughes at the top. Many of the Australian players who have performed over the years would feel let down by the selection of Khawaja.
Since Australia would play Pakistan in England in their away series, as the sub-continental country is still not a safe place to tour, Usman’s selection is seen more of a marketing strategy.
It’s a well known fact that Pakistanis in particular and Muslims overall make-up a substantial part of England`s population. Most of them follow cricket keenly and pour in numbers whenever the sub-continental teams play there. The large number of crowds at India-Pakistan matches is a pointer to this fact.
Whatever may be the reason for Khawaja’s selection, it’s no doubt a historical step on the part of Australia, a country stained by many racist controversies in the past, to include a Muslim from the sub-continent into their team. It’s time Usman Khawaja, a qualified pilot, takes his career to a new height and becomes an inspiration for an entire generation of sub-continental people in Australia.