West Indies tri-series 2016 June 1, 2016

Khawaja finds his peace in the middle

Usman Khawaja: "The game can be quite tough at times and stressful and emotional. So you have to find a way to bring yourself back to your centre". © AFP

Usman Khawaja has always batted with a certain grace. His languid movements and supple wrists have combined for a visual style that suggests ease and peace, and a sense of time to spare enjoyed by only the very best players.

But until fairly recently, the image was also something of an illusion. Khawaja's technique may have looked smooth, but inside his head turmoil and worry raged. He was unsure of his place in the game, and his future in the Australian team. This fretfulness played out over a handful of Test matches that reaped only two half centuries and many slim scores.

Ahead of Australia's triangular series against the West Indies and South Africa, Khawaja has spoken of how the shattering death of Phillip Hughes contributed to a more balanced outlook on the game, and how his Muslim faith has helped him to retain it. The proof of Khawaja's development can be found in his performance, peeling off century after century last summer and winning an all-format place in Australia's plans.

"We obviously lost Hughesy and I did my knee in the space of two weeks, so it was a pretty rough time," Khawaja told reporters in Guyana. "So you just sort of learn to let go a little bit.

"When I first came into the Australian team I wanted to make such a good impression and to do so much and so well, which is normal for a young kid. Now I'm just more relaxed about it all. What's meant to be is meant to be.

"I train really hard, I do the right things at training, and then when the game time comes I just try and compete and if it's good enough, it's good enough. If it's not, so be it."

Cricket Australia has highlighted Khawaja's Pakistani background and Muslim belief as signs of the game's diverse future down under, but the man himself has been reticent at times to speak of a personal faith. However his development as a cricketer links directly to the sense of peace and perspective it gives him these days, meaning Khawaja was this time a little more expansive.

"The game can be quite tough at times and stressful and emotional," he said. "So you have to find a way to bring yourself back to your centre. Everyone does that in different ways. I have my own way and I do it because you play so much cricket and so much is going on, you can sometimes forget about that sort of stuff. It's a good question because it happens a lot.

"I pray. That's what keeps me centred. The number one most important thing in my life is religion. That comes first and that helps me with everything else, cricket included. I haven't become any more religious. I think I've just found a happy medium of religion helping me with life in general.

"It sort of happens when something as big as what happened a couple of years ago with Hughesy happens. I think everyone took it in a different way. Everyone finds different avenues and aspects so that's one big one for me."

In the Caribbean, Khawaja will again be pitched into a contest for places in the batting order, as the likes of Aaron Finch, David Warner and the captain Steven Smith all lay claim to places in the top three. Once upon a time this may have worried Khawaja, bringing anxiety and nerves close to the surface and clouding his method with the bat.

But this time it will be more likely he takes events in his stride, whether cuffing balls to the boundary or running drinks for others. It's not the end of the world, after all.

"Obviously I love opening but I know that Finchy and Davey have been doing it for a while too, so I understand that and I'm glad to be part of this team," Khawaja said. "I wasn't around at all last year or the year before that, so I don't look that far ahead. All that stuff has no bearing on me, it's the selectors and coaches, they make those decisions and I just try to go out there and play cricket to the best of my ability. I'd be happy to play anywhere in the top order, but we've got a lot of very good players here too, so it just depends what happens."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig

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