Humbled Khawaja recalls aspects of Test debut

Sunday, January 9, 2011

SYDNEY - Newly blooded Test batsman Usman Khawaja, the bright light from Australia’s crushing fifth Test loss in Sydney, for compiling 37 runs in a first innings that showed glimpses of brilliance and 21 in a gritty second innings, says he can never think of himself as the saviour of Australian cricket.

“If I started listening to that I’d set myself up for trouble. I just intend to enjoy my cricket and do as much as I can for my team, and that’s all I can do. If I’m picked for Australia, I’ll be very happy and I’ll do my best, but I’d never listen to that kind of talk,” Khwaja told the Sun-Herald.

The morning after the biggest five days of his cricket career, he told The Sun-Herald his story of being a Test cricket rookie.


I was at home sleeping in because I had the day off when the news came through that I’d been picked for Australia. I got the call I was in the Test squad but we weren’t sure whether I’d play because no one was sure whether or not ‘Punter’ [skipper Ricky Ponting] would play with his broken finger. It was a bit of a waiting game until I was told later on in the day that I was in for Ricky.


My friends and I had made plans to go to Luna Park and, while I didn’t stay too long, it was good fun. I went on a few rides before I went to the team hotel. It was actually a good excuse for me to say I had to leave before the traffic became bad because I’m a bit of a girl on rides! The view of the fireworks was amazing.


I approached Ricky because I wanted to ask him a few questions about the English bowlers as I wanted to ensure I had all my plans ready before I faced them. Punter was standing back a bit at the session because he wasn’t the captain for this Test. I also sought out Michael Hussey because, being a left-hander, I was keen to know what his [batting] plans were.


Michael Clarke was great. He constantly reminded me to enjoy the experience. “Pup” said no matter what happened I should just go out there and have a blast. He said if I batted as I had in the Sheffield Shield, everything would take care of itself. He was insistent that I had fun - and I did.


There were a few of the NSW boys in the squad with Pup, Brad Haddin, Phil Hughes, Shane Watson and Steven Smith, who I’ve played a bit of cricket with. Smithy and I spent a bit of time together in the lead-up to the Test and during the game by watching movies and television in our room and ordering room service. It was good to have him around. The Australian dressing room at the SCG is the same one the NSW team uses but it was different this time because I sat in a different seat to the one I normally would for NSW. I think I started being myself around the team when I was in Melbourne. It was great to have Bobby Barter as our room attendant. He’s an important figure at my grade club, Randwick-Petersham, and he can’t do enough for you. He’s full of energy and it was special to have him around for the Test because it added more to that comfort factor.


It was different to have a huge crowd watching a warm-up at the SCG. Normally we have a hundred or so at a Shield match, but there were thousands. It was incredible to walk out and see all these people.


You appreciate the baggy green cap is not just a green cap, it’s the honour the cap represents. It signals that you’re one of just over 400 players to have represented Australia in a sport with a long and proud history. There are people who’d pay millions of dollars for that cap and the chance to play for Australia, but you have to earn it. If someone had’ve told me three years ago I’d be presented with a baggy green cap by Mark Taylor, I wouldn’t have believed them.


Phil Hughes was out and I was to go in. I don’t often eat much when I’m batting or about to bat, and I skipped lunch because I wasn’t hungry.


I don’t know how I walked out so calmly - maybe force of habit. My brother told me I sprinted out to the wicket and that I was way ahead of Watto [Shane Watson]. The crowd was great. I was pumped to receive such a great reception and the roar when I scored my first run was amazing - it felt as though I’d scored a century. I wasn’t expecting them to cheer me on so hard and for them to have my back as they did while I was out there was special and I was very appreciative. I don’t know why they gave me such a reception; it was something you’d expect for the great cricketers and I’m anything but that yet. I’m not sure but it was humbling to have so many Australians in my corner.


The only thing I wasn’t sure about was how the ball would come out of the bowler’s hand with such a big crowd. I’d done it before with a white ball in one-day cricket, but not a red ball. When the time came I was in Shield mode and focused on each delivery. It was a healthy concentration and it all felt good.


She’s become more of a celebrity than anyone else I know because of all that time she appeared on the television! No matter where she goes, people say ‘You’re Usman’s mother,’ and it’s great, I love it. I think all the anxiety may have caught up with her because she felt ill on days two and three. I told Mum to relax; that I’m all right when I’m out there batting and she should enjoy it too. But you know what mothers are like. You should have seen her when I first started to fly planes. Horrendous!


I just kept repeating to myself, “Watch it … watch … watch … watch as hard as you can.” [Chris Tremlett] bowled it onto my pads and I got it away for two. I can’t remember actually running the two, I just remember hitting the ball and starting to run as hard as I could.


It was disappointing [to be caught by Jonathan Trott off Graeme Swann], especially on the last ball on the first day. I still felt disappointed when I woke up the next morning but I learned a lot from that dismissal. One of the most valuable things in cricket is experience.

THE LESSONI realised first-class cricket in Australia is very strong but the step up to Tests is significant. The bowlers are more consistent but in the end you realise it is still the same ball being bowled at the same bat. When I walked out I realised the battle was still between the ball and bat, and it was good to realise that because when I took strike I was comfortable and I was ready.


Of course a win would have been nice. I’m looking at the big picture. My focus is to improve and to learn from each game.


I don’t feel any different at all. I’m receiving a little bit more attention now that I’ve played for Australia, and people come up to me. I honestly feel the same as I did before Monday and I am happy about that. It’s good to be level-headed and down to earth - it lets you keep moving forward. (ANI)

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