‘Nice to actually see some action’: Khawaja applauds CA’s multicultural push, but knows more work is needed


Whether it’s as a newly appointed Cricket Australia Multicultural Ambassador or as the official new face of Amazon Prime’s Australian coverage of the 2024 T20 World Cup, Usman Khawaja is a promoter’s dream.

Softly but firmly spoken, unafraid to speak his mind on causes big and small and exuding an air of authority without a hint of the arrogance that usually goes hand in hand with it, the 37-year old is as relaxed away from the playing surface as he always has been on it.

Whether examining bats on a tour of the Brian Lara Cricket Academy facility in Trinidad – surely none of the Papua New Guinean players using the changerooms for a warm-up game would object to their equipment being blessed by the Australian opener’s hands – or practising his golf swing in the hotel foyer ahead of a trip to New York to watch the city play host to India and Pakistan in a few weeks’ time, there is an air of ease to Khawaja that doesn’t abate even when surrounded by cameras and flashing lights as both Prime Video and the ICC make the most out of every opportunity to show him off.

It’s this side of his character that was once a point of criticism among the Australian cricket-loving community at large: the ‘laidback’ description once a near-permanent affixation to any descriptions of Khawaja the batter became synonymous with a sense of frustration that a player as talented as he could even mildly fail to live up to the whopping expectations he set dominating Sheffield Shield cricket as a young up-and-comer some 15 years ago.

Perhaps no member of the Australian team has had as much of a reputational shift due to the exposure granted by Prime’s The Test documentary over its three seasons as Khawaja: famously confronting then-coach Justin Langer about the playing group ‘walking on eggshells’ around the famously tough legend.

Aided by his extraordinary ongoing run of form since breaking back into the Test XI in January 2022, having averaged 53 and locked down an opener’s spot alongside first David Warner and now Steve Smith, the public’s perception has shifted from the player of promise who never quite took it seriously enough to fulfil his remarkable talent before being ousted midway through the 2019 Ashes, to a martyr jilted out of his rightful spot in the team by a vengeful coach upset at his frankness and a dominant force in one of Australia’s most successful periods ever.

Usman Khawaja was given a reprimand for wearing a black armband to protest the violence in Gaza during the Australian summer. (Photo by Will Russell/Getty Images)

For Khawaja, though, the trigger for his reputational rebuild isn’t quite as simple as that: it’s ‘hard to say’, according to him, whether he is viewed differently as a result of the access granted to Prime behind the scenes of the Australian men’s team.

“It’s [the series] given people more of an insight of what I’m like among my teammates in the changerooms,” he said.

“I’m a bit of a pest, I like to joke around, but when we need to have hard, serious conversations, I’m always there to have them.

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“People just see me the way I am on the field – I try to control my emotions, I try to stay quite subdued and just concentrate on the game – they probably assume that that’s what I’m like all the time, but that’s not like that at all. I’m quite the opposite.

“A lot of times you see the real Uzzy, especially in the Amazon stuff, because I forget the cameras are there.”

With the Australian T20 World Cup squad also in Trinidad for a pair of warm-up games before the tournament proper begins, Khawaja has had plenty of opportunities to interact with a group of which many appear alongside him in the Test team.

While far from finished with international cricket, the experience of being on tour without being part of the team is ‘very weird’ – and unlikely to feel normal anytime soon.

“I’ve only been involved in teams that have played the game, and been with the team in the hotel room,” he said.

“It’s very different walking down, sitting down, seeing the guys come in in their team kit – and I’m not there to play cricket.

“I don’t think I’m fully ready for it. I’m still a cricketer first and foremost, so I haven’t quite let go of that yet. In the future, when I do hang up the boots, it’ll take a bit of time to get used to.”

Khawaja strikes as a natural fit for a broadcaster should he choose to take that path post-playing days: infinitely knowledgeable about the game, his affable personality and strong convictions are tailor made for a career behind the mic, while his near-universal popularity would surely only be to his advantage.

But for the veteran right now, his priorities are twofold: continuing his late-career renaissance with blockbuster home summers against India and England in his immediate future, and his endeavours as an officially appointed CA Multicultural Ambassador, alongside fellow current Australian cricketers Alana King, Scott Boland and others.

Khawaja has been involved heavily in this front for much of the later stages of his career, and has never been shy in expressing the issues he perceives in Australian cricket: a little over 12 months ago, he hit out at the lack of diversity in Australian cricket from the grassroots up, with his assertion that coaches would prioritise white players proving divisive.

“If you have two cricketers, one brown, one white, both the same, the white coach is going to pick the white cricketer just because he has a son that might look similar to him,” Khawaja told the Sydney Morning Herald in January 2023.

The most encouraging sign he sees is in CA’s conviction to attack the issue with a plan, rather than merely pouring money into trying to fix a long-standing and deeply embedded problem with cricket’s culture Australia-wide.

“It’s nice to see that Cricket Australia are actually branching out into the community – not just cricket players, but people that are involved in cricket outside the community,” he said.

“We’ve all got to start somewhere, and that’s what I’ve been saying to Cricket Australia – what we’ve been doing in the past has not been working for us.

Usman Khawaja celebrates his century during the 2023 first Ashes Test in England. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

“Cricket Australia have invested a lot of money in multiculturalism, particularly in cricket: we haven’t quite seen the rewards of it. What do they say – the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

“I think for once, Cricket Australia are actually changing the goalposts a little bit, trying stuff a little bit differently, engaging with the community. These are all things that I’ve been trying to push with them for the last five, six years. It’s really nice to actually see some actions and things in work.”

But while initial steps are strong, Khawaja knows better than anyone the end result will define this new initiative – and a future where cricketers of all backgrounds and ethnicities are able to shine, with stories like his rise from his Pakistan birthplace to the highest echelons of the sport no longer as unique as they are now.

“We’ve still got a long way to go,” he said.

“It’s always nice to do these things on face value, and show people what you’re doing, but the end result will speak for itself. We need to see greater representation of the Australian community in the Australian cricket team.

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“You’ll find that out in ten years whether everything we’re doing now is working. If you’re still not seeing that, well, then it’s still not working.

“I’m looking forward to seeing what happens.”

The reigning Men’s Test Cricketer of the Year and a World Test Champion to boot, Khawaja’s legacy on the field can only be enhanced from here.

The impact he leaves behind off it, however, may only be just starting to grow.

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