Pakistan v Australia 2010 June 22, 2010

Khawaja picked to face country of birth

Pakistan's players may wonder about the one that got away when they peer into the Australian dressing room during the series in England next month. Sitting there will be Usman Khawaja, a 23-year-old batsman, who was born in Islamabad.

Since Khawaja's family moved to Sydney when he was three, he has developed into one of the most impressive young batsmen in the country, sworn his allegiance to the quest for a baggy green, and become a qualified pilot. If he plays at Lord's or Leeds in July he will become Australia's first Muslim Test cricketer by appearing against his country of birth.

"When I first got told that I was going over to England that didn't even cross my mind," he said in Brisbane. "It [being a Muslim] doesn't cross my mind until someone brings it up. I am around the boys all the time and I never once feel like I am different."

Khawaja is currently on tour in Queensland with Australia A and he tried to remain cool when told of his selection in the 14-man squad. "I was a bit shocked, I had a feeling I was close," he said. Khawaja quickly told his excited father Tariq, who has increased his love of the Australian team as his boy became more accomplished.

Usman last visited Pakistan four years ago and is unsure where the loyalties of his extended family, including his maternal grandmother, will lie. He hopes they will cheer for him if he gets a game.

"I haven't thought about it like that," he said. "I am just very happy being in the squad." In England he will be on standby for the top four batsmen, but will mostly be there to gain experience for what could be a barrier-breaking career.

One of those left-handers who seem to see the ball in slow motion, Khawaja is rarely rushed at the crease and is treasured for his composed performances in the four-day format. (He has played only four domestic one-day games.) There has been a feeling around the state scene for the past two years that Khawaja's rise to Australian colours was inevitable and the elevation has arrived despite him not completing a full Sheffield Shield campaign.

New South Wales' strong line-up of internationals has contributed to him appearing in only 18 first-class fixtures for his state but, despite a mid-season broken thumb, he still managed three centuries and 698 runs at 63.45 in seven games last summer. Two of the hundreds came in back-to-back matches, with 132 against Queensland on a testing pitch at the Gabba and 107 in more comfortable conditions in Newcastle.

Like Michael Clarke, Khawaja went to Westfields Sport High School in Sydney and he has a similar build to Australia's Test vice-captain, weighing in at around 77kg and standing 1.77m tall. He plays for Randwick Petersham, the club Nathan Hauritz captains and Simon Katich turns out for when time allows, and has been in the same state sides as Brad Haddin and Clarke a couple of times.

He is as fresh as his young New South Wales team-mates Phillip Hughes and Steven Smith were on their first senior trips. "When I was a kid I dreamed of going on tour but I am not looking too far ahead," he said. "If I just carry the drinks the whole time, it doesn't really bother me. It's just exciting to be around Punter [Ricky Ponting] - I have never met him."

Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo

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