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Usman Khawaja Hated The Aussie Team As A Kid, And Was Told He Was 'Too Dark' For It

The rise of Pauline Hanson wreaked havoc on his childhood self-esteem.

13/10/2017 3:46 PM AEDT | Updated 10 minutes ago
Jason Reed / Reuters

In many ways, Usman Khawaja could hardly be more true blue Aussie. He grew up in a working class household just a cricket ball's throw from the SCG. He played cricket in the park with his brothers every day. And his chief interests in life were -- no prizes for guessing -- cricket, cricket and cricket.

But in other ways, the country which his Pakistani parents Traiq and Fozia Khawaja adopted had a nasty way of telling the youngest Khawaja that he was never one of us.

Khawaja, who is now 30 and has played 24 Tests so far for Australia with a very healthy batting average of 45.47, was five-years-old and spoke no English (but fluent Urdu) when his family of five moved to Australia and rented a tiny two bedroom apartment in inner Sydney.

As he told the website Playersvoice.com.au this week, one day he saw the Australian cricketer Michael Slater drive past in his red Ferrari. "How good was Australia!" the impressionable youngster thought to himself. How good indeed.

WILLIAM WEST via Getty Images
We hang on his every word these days.

Khawaja did not always have things easy as a kid. When his family shifted to western Sydney, he was often called a "f---ken curry muncher", even though -- as he rather amusingly points out -- "I still don't know how to actually munch curry".

YOU CAN READ THE WHOLE USMAN KHAWAJA PIECE ON PLAYERSVOICE HERE. IT'S RIPPER STUFF.

Other times kids picked fights with him for no reason. Then came the rise of Pauline Hanson, who again set back his ability to feel part of the Australian community.

While that played out on the wider national stage, Khawaja experienced racial slurs from both players and parents as he rose through the junior cricket ranks, especially when he made runs. And while his natural instinct was to support the Australian cricket team, the young Khawaja found it increasingly difficult to do so. As he wrote on PlayersVoice:

"Everything that was going on in our childhood and around us built up this resentment of the Australian cricket team.

I mean, none of them looked like us. I was brought up to believe if I didn't drink alcohol growing up I was un-Australian. So then why should I support a country that doesn't believe in me?

I was brought up to be respectful, humble and polite. But when I watched the Aussie team, I saw men who were hard-nosed, confident, almost brutish. The same type of men who would sledge me about my heritage growing up.

Thing changed. Khawaja began to realise that only a minority of Australians held racist views. By high school he cheered wholeheartedly for the Aussie team. But was there a pathway for a boy like him to be part of it?

"So many times I was told by other sub continental parents, 'You will never make it, you're not the right skin colour'," he recalls. But that just drove him to prove them wrong. And fortunately both for him and for Australian cricket, that's how things turned out.

Jason Reed / Reuters

Australia's first Muslim Test cricketer now says he sees more and more talented Asian Australian players coming through the domestic cricket ranks here. And he believes the door is open for Australian selection, even though, as he wrote in his PlayersVoice piece:

"There is no doubt racism and politics played a large roll [sic] in selections in the past."

"What I do know is Australian cricket is slowly changing and will finally have a chance to reflect what Australia really is. An international team truly representative of its richly diverse population," Khawaja wrote.

Amen to that. Or as they say in Urdu, "ami".

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