Khawaja relaxed ahead of big day
Usman Khawaja will bring so much more than his bat to the SCG for his Test debut on Monday. Khawaja, 24, is a run-maker who will be the first Muslim to wear a baggy green, instantly becoming a poster boy for a significant chunk of a country which has always had to watch a mono-culture team.
Jason Gillespie was Australia's only Test cricketer with acknowledged Aboriginal heritage and there have been a heavy sprinkling of players with eastern European heritage, such as Katich, Kasprowicz and Krejza. But despite the country having welcomed a huge immigrant population from Asia, it has taken the rise of Khawaja, an assured left-hander born in Pakistan, to break the mould.
And Khawaja, who doesn't drink and is a qualified pilot, fits in perfectly with his new team-mates. He is already the most popular guy in the New South Wales squad and has settled in well over the summer with the Test outfit in Brisbane, Melbourne and now Sydney.
Khawaja, who moved to Australia when he was three, will bat three in the fifth Test after replacing Ricky Ponting. It is a massive job but nothing seems to faze him. Not the extra attention because of his religion, his upbringing, his flying or his batting. Not even the size of the queue for his autograph outside the SCG nets today.
"Ussie is pretty chilled out, a pretty laid-back sort of guy," Michael Clarke said. "He's going fine. He's really excited about being part of this Australian team and receiving his baggy green and playing his first Test match."
Like most people who have watched Khawaja, Clarke is impressed by his composed play and wristy shots. In 27 first-class matches Khawaja averages 51.70 and after 30 first-class innings for New South Wales was the state's sixth-most prolific run-scorer. Only Don Bradman, Arthur Morris, Norm O'Neill, Phillip Hughes and Stan McCabe had done more.
"I have no doubt Usman will play a lot more than one Test match for Australia," Clarke said. "It's important when he walks out on the field he's doing nothing different to what he's done the last two years for New South Wales. Get out there, play his way, be himself, be confident. I guarantee you, if he gets out there and plays the way he's played for New South Wales, we all know he'll have success over a long career."
There will be two new caps handed out before the toss, with the spinner Michael Beer also getting one, but Clarke won't be delivering them like Ricky Ponting has done. Clarke's first change as captain comes with a return to former Australian Test players presenting the baggy greens, a ceremony started under Steve Waugh.
"The players don't know who they are [getting the caps from] so it's a bit of a surprise," Clarke said. Shane Warne is likely to be there for Beer, a left-arm spinner, who used to play at his St Kilda club in Melbourne. Beer has since moved to Western Australia and leap-frogged from fringe state player to Test specialist in seven first-class games.
Beer, 26, is more a traditional Australian player, with long vowels, short words and light-coloured, spiky hair. He has never played at the SCG and is the latest slow bowler to have shot from the selectors' test-tube. The panel has preferred Beer to Doug Bollinger, with Ben Hilfenhaus holding on to his spot.
Clarke is not worried by Beer's lack of experience at the ground and expects him to have a big impact from the third day, when the pitch is expected to offer significant turn. "I made my debut in Bangalore and I'd never been to Bangalore before, never seen that change room, never played a game on that wicket," Clarke said. "It's no different. He's lucky enough to make his Test debut at the SCG in front of a full house."
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo