Cool Khawaja dispels hype with innings of real promise

First Muslim cricketer to don Baggy Green looks the part before cruel late dismissal
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The Independent Online

In 1939, Hattie McDaniel became the first black actor to win an Oscar. It was a seminal moment in the history of the United States – she received the statuette for her best supporting role in Gone With The Wind – for such moments can change cultures and alter outlooks.

So it might be for Usman Khawaja, who yesterday won his maiden Test cap, the legendary Baggy Green, the first Muslim to play for Australia. He scored 37 crisp runs, getting off the mark first ball with a clipped two and then pulling four nonchalantly off the second. Khawaja looked the part every bit as much as had McDaniel as Mammy the maid answering back Scarlett O'Hara.

Not that Khawaja was dwelling much on his role as a pioneer. "I think probably being the first Pakistani-born player to play for Australia matters a bit more than my religious beliefs because they're personal to me," he said. "It's probably more significant. But I guess you can make something up about anything. You can say that Michael Beer is the first person who sticks his tongue out 24-7 to play for Australia."

At which the stout party collapsed and Khawaja, a fair-dinkum Aussie who bristles with mischief and confidence, had made his point. Beer, like him, was awarded his first cap yesterday. Khawaja was given a hearty reception on his way to the wicket right after lunch, Philip Hughes having fallen in the last over before it.

That must have settled him and the leg-side half volley with which he was greeted, followed by a short ball, must have also helped. The second stroke reminded some observers of another languid left-hander, David Gower, who despatched his first ball in Test cricket for four 33 years ago.

Nor had he spent the lunch interval fretting about what was to come, with the ball jagging around insolently and England's bowlers on the prowl. He had, he said, been at his emotional peak when he was awarded his Baggy Green by the former Australia captain, Mark Taylor, before play.

"I literally barely thought about batting for the first 20 minutes of lunch," he said. "I just lay down in the changing room and fell asleep. Then I got up, got myself ready again. As soon as I got out there it just felt like the best thing ever; I was out there playing for Australia, the crowd was right behind me and it was awesome."

On England's last tour, Khawaja had spent the entire match in the Australian dressing room (not that there was much of it, for they won early in the fourth day) as the 13th man.

"It's pretty surreal playing in an Ashes Test match four years later," he said. "It was the retirement of Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Justin Langer, Australia won five-zip with the Ashes handed over and I was there doing 13th man all five days.

"It was a good Test to be at, I took a lot away from it. It was a lot of fun just being a part of it, I was just putting out drinks. I had forgotten about it until yesterday. I still have to pinch myself sometimes."

The innings ended just as it was taking proper shape. Those watching had not quite forgotten that it was Ricky Ponting who used to bat at number three for Australia but they were on the way. But then Khawaja was outsmarted by Graeme Swann and top-edged an intended pull.

"You never want to get out, and especially not to the last ball of the day, as it turned out to be," Khawaja said. "I would love to have been there on 37 not out. I had a ball out there; I was having so much fun I didn't want to come off. It was just a good start and I had got all that anxiousness out of my system and was just loving being out in the middle.

"I would like to play Test cricket as long as possible, but I am taking Ricky Ponting's spot, who is probably the greatest Australian batsman bar Don Bradman. So I am just enjoying this Test match now and trying to savour every moment."

But the thought that occurred as he went off and the Sydney rain came down to suspend play was that in Usman Khawaja's case, tomorrow is another day.

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