When Usman Khawaja takes guard at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) sometime this week in the fifth and final Ashes Test, he will be doing a lot more than filling in for injured Aussie captain Ricky Ponting. He will be filling up a record berth as the first Muslim player ever to represent Australia in Test cricket.
Variety is indeed the spice of life, as the crowd is smacking their lips in anticipation of a novelty inclusion in a team that has been mono-cultural for too long. Yes, the Australian team has previously had players of East European heritage in Michael Kasprowicz, Simon Katich and Krejza and even someone of part-Aboriginese blood in Jason Gillespie. But even though Asian immigrants have been flooding Australia for decades and decades, a player from the subcontinent had not made it to the country's Test team until now.
The 24-year-old Khawaja migrated from Pakistan to Australia with his family when he was three and after a successful run at the school level, made it to the country's Under-19 side. That was his launch pad to enter the New South Whales team, where he made his bones as a formidable middle-order batsman in the country's domestic Sheffield Shield.
Khawaja has chalked up over 2000 first-class runs at an impressive average of 51.70, with 6 centuries to his credit. In mid-2010, he was chosen in the squad to play Pakistan in England and at the start of England's tour of Down Under in Nov last year, he represented Australia 'A' in a tour game.
Aside from his religion setting him apart from the rest of the team, he also doesn't drink and is a qualified pilot. But these differences don't bother him, neither does the magnitude of the event that he will be partaking in on Monday, Jan 2. He is undoubtedly a popular player, an attribute that was made evident by the droves of fans hounding him for autographs after practice on Saturday.
"I have no doubt Usman will play a lot more than one Test match for Australia," Aussie stand in skipper Michael Clarke, said. "It's important when he walks out on the field he's doing nothing different to what he's done the last two years for New South Wales. Get out there, play his way, be himself, be confident. I guarantee you, if he gets out there and plays the way he's played for New South Wales, we all know he'll have success over a long career."
It will indeed be a monumental day in Australia's cricketing history when Usman Khawaja wears the baggy green at Sydney tomorrow.