Australian batsman, Usman Khawaja, opens up about how his encounters with racial abuse affected him growing up.
The 30-year-old, who immigrated to Australia as a child, became the Baggy Greens’ first Pakistani-born cricketer and is now regarded as one of their top Test batsmen.
It wasn’t an easy road into the national side for Khawaja and the Australia No 3 revealed that his experience with racism made it difficult for him to be an Australia supporter.
‘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 playersvoice.com.au
‘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.’
The abuse seemed to have empowered him to prove himself, in a difficult environment for him to practise his craft and enjoy the game
‘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.
‘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.’
For a while, Khawaja was the only Asian first-class player in Australia.
‘It’s no surprise it has taken Australia cricket so long for coloured players to come through the system,’ he said.
‘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.
‘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.’
Khawaja has played 24 Tests and scored 1 728 at an average of 45.47, which includes five centuries and eight half-centuries.
Photo: Paul Kane/Getty Images