Sat, Jan 01, 2011 - Page 19 News List

Khawaja’s emergence a spur for downcast Aussies


Out of the gloom of failing to regain the Ashes and Ricky Ponting’s travails comes the feel-good story of Usman Khawaja’s emergence into an Australian team desperate to level the series.

Khawaja gets his chance to make his Test debut in the Sydney match, the fifth and final clash of the Ashes, after skipper Ponting was ruled out with complications to a broken little finger.

Pakistan-born Khawaja, 24, is in line to become the first Muslim to play Test cricket for Australia.

The player himself says he thinks little about it, but his father cannot ignore the significance.

“Obviously, it will have a positive impact,” Tariq Khawaja said. “It’s good for the [Muslim] community. It shows that it’s a fair system and whoever puts in effort can achieve anything in this country. Not only Muslims, any religion. As a youngster, if you have passion and if you have dreams, you can make it work.”

Many have touted Khawaja’s Test potential and he comes into the Australia team as the leading scorer in this season’s domestic Sheffield Shield competition with 598 runs at 74.75.

Khawaja’s inclusion would reflect the multicultural nature of Australian society and he comes highly regarded by his New South Wales (NSW) teammates and coaches.

“It’s fantastic that Usman is in the team,” Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland said. “He’s a role model for Australian kids, no matter what background they are.”

Test and NSW batsman Simon Katich rates Khawaja as one of the most accomplished young batsmen in the Australian game.

“I have been raving about him for some time and I have always thought technically he is one of the best young batsmen going around,” Katich said. “He has a lot of time, he is very stylish and great to watch.”

“He is very good off the back foot which is a good sign for a batsman from Sydney and he is very strong against the short stuff and is a very good all-round player,” he said.

The Sydney Test will be a daunting assignment for Khawaja, who emigrated with his family from Pakistan when he was just three years old.

He is expected to fill the troublesome No. 3 batting spot, where Ponting has struggled throughout the series, scoring just 113 runs in eight innings at an average of 16.

Ponting himself has been impressed by Khawaja.

“Everything I’ve seen of Usman, I’ve been very impressed with what he’s been able to do. His first-class record is very, very good,” Ponting said.

“Technically, he looks as good as any of the young blokes we’ve got around Australia, probably better,” he said. “You need to have that really solid technique if you want to stand up at No. 3 at Test level.”

Khawaja is deeply respectful of Ponting and his achievements.

“He is a legendary cricketer and a legendary bloke,” he said. “Me taking Ricky’s spot? I highly doubt that.”

Khawaja also has an eye on his future, taking time away from the game to complete his bachelor of aviation degree and qualifying as a commercial pilot before returning to cricket in February 2008.

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