Australian batsman Usman Khawaja, who was selected for the Ashes squad but is currently featuring in Australia A vs England Lions, had a tough time breaking the cultural barrier as a teenager.
Facing racism since an early age, Usman is used to hearing people say that he would never make it to the Australian team because of his skin colour.
In an interview to abc.net.au, Usman said that looking different from others meant that he would be subjected to various forms of racism from time to time. “It was hard to break down that cultural barrier,” he said. “I didn’t go out drinking. You know, I went and prayed on Fridays. I did Ramadan. There were a lot of these things in the late 90s, the early 2000s, people had no idea about.
“I was very different and that is held against you to some respect, and I saw it from time to time. I think part of it had to do with culture, part of it definitely had to do with some sort of systemic racism, and even part of it had to do some sort of bias. Because cricket, like any other game, it’s a game selected by people. And you’ve got some lovely people around cricket. Ninety-eight per cent of people that I dealt with in cricket were great people.
“But whether you understand, or whether you like to admit it or not, there’s always a certain connection you have with someone who looks a bit more like you, who’s got similar cultural beliefs as you,” said Khawaja, who averages almost 41 per innings and has eight centuries in 44 Test matches.
“For me, sport as the one thing that broke down all barriers when I was a kid. I didn’t understand or speak English when I came to Australia, but I do remember that I was playing footy and cricket from day one at school.” – @uz_khawaja #abc730 pic.twitter.com/tFZJfvrMvt
— abc730 (@abc730) December 7, 2021
Khawaja was born in Islamabad, Pakistan in 1986, and his family moved to Sydney when he was four. As a kid, Khawaja enjoyed playing all sports with his two elder brothers. The Queensland captain, who is now a father and in charge of a charity foundation that teaches cricket to the less prviledged kids, feels that conversation around race is essential.
“Because we’re such a diverse country, so many different, beautiful backgrounds, different cultures, and cricket for a long time has been straight down the line — this way. I think that’s one thing I’d love to see slowly change. [What] really hurts me the most is when I hear someone from the subcontinent or either second or third generation — who do you support? And they’re like, ‘Oh yeah we support India or Pakistan. We don’t support Australia’.
“That hurts me because I love Australia. I love the Australian cricket team and I really want them to feel the same way. I don’t want them to feel like they can’t get involved in that either. When we start seeing that, I think you know you’ve made some good inroads,” he added.
Australia A: Bryce Street, Henry Hunt, Matthew Renshaw, Nic Maddinson (c), Usman Khawaja, Mitch Marsh, Josh Inglis, Michael Neser, Mitch Swepson, Mark Steketee, Scott Boland.
England Lions: Alex Lees (c), Robert Yates, James Bracey, Thomas Abell, Joshua Bohannon, Harry Brook, Ben Foakes, Dom Bess, Matthew Fisher, Liam Norwell, Saqib Mahmood.