Usman Khawaja © Getty Images
Usman Khawaja © Getty Images

Usman Khawaja battled odds to be part of the Australian cricket set-up. Pakistan-born, Khawaja, immigrated as a child and today is one of Australia’s leading Test batsmen. However, it was not so hunky-dory for Khawaja. In his column for the playersvoice.com.au, Khawaja revealed that he was always racially abused from a young age. That affected his selection across Australian sporting teams. It took so much toll on the opener that Khawaja decided to not support the national side anymore.

“Getting sledged by opposition players and their parents was the norm. Some of them said it just quietly enough for only me to hear,” he wrote on the website, where sportspeople can air their views.”It still hurts, but I would never show it. Most of the time it was when I scored runs. It is for this reason why so many of my friends, most of whom were born outside Australia, didn’t support Australia in sporting contests. I didn’t either.”

Although there are no such issues anymore, Khawaja finds it intimidating to play the game he loves. Australian men are known to be brutal and hard-nosed. But Khawaja remained unfazed about the abuse after a certain point. Khawaja’s upbringing has brought in the difference. He said he was brought up to be 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,” he added.

As he got older, he said Australia also grew up and “I started to understand that the minority of Australians who did treat me this way were just that, a minority. By high school I was a diehard Australian team supporter. But, from a pathways perspective, the damage had been done. Not to me, but to some of the other immigrant kids who potentially could have gone on to play for Australia. They chose not to pursue a dream because of the negative experiences they had endured.”

At one point Khawaja was the only Asian first-class player in Australia, something he attributed to his strong-willed family, “It’s no surprise it has taken Australia cricket so long for coloured players to come through the system. There is no doubt racism and politics played a large role in selections in the past. I’ve heard a few stories from past Anglo-Saxon players where this seems to be the case. It would just be the times that they lived in.”Khawaja said Australian cricket and society has come a long way and it is now easier for cricketers from all backgrounds to come through the system. But he is reluctant to take any credit for opening doors.

“Maybe it was inevitable with the growing multicultural community in Australia. Maybe it was a few friendly faces at the highest level. We will never know,” he said.

(Inputs from AFP)