Twenty-five years ago, Usman Khawaja left Pakistan as a little boy with his family, set for a new life in Australia. He has played 20 Test matches in the baggy green, and is about to play his first against the country of his birth. That match will take place at the Gabba, his adopted home ground. But despite being Queensland’s state captain, Khawaja was still at the centre of an awkward moment on Tuesday.
“Funnily enough I was waiting downstairs and I needed the change room locker to be opened for us and I was just waiting and the Queensland Cricket lady came down,” Khawaja said at the Gabba. “She was like ‘Oh, you need the locker rooms open?’ I went ‘yes please’ and she started walking to the Pakistani change room. I was like, ‘No, I’m that way, thank you’.”
His Pakistani background remains important to Khawaja, although he remembers only glimpses of his early life in Islamabad. He has not been back to visit relatives in Pakistan since 2008, and has had few dealings with the Pakistan cricket team, having played against them only in a solitary Twenty20 international during this year’s World T20 in India.
Asked whether playing his first Test against Pakistan would be a significant moment, Khawaja said he had not considered the matter in that way, but he said it might be a big moment for his parents, Tariq and Fozia.
“They grew up in Pakistan and were there for a long time,” Khawaja said. “Obviously I was born there, so it’s a very close part of me. It still is a very big part of me… culture is very important, as is religion. My parents are Australian but they’re also very Pakistani.
“If I broke it down, the way I act and what I do, is very Australian, but there are always parts of me [that are Pakistani] – when I talk to my parents I still at times try to speak Urdu here and there. It’s not as good as theirs but they can understand what’s going on. It is a big part of my life when I’m with my parents or around my parents, but other than that it’s usually quite normal.
“My parents are truly Australian now. They don’t support Pakistan at all. They haven’t for a long time. They were there for 30 years but now they just want me to do well and want Australia to win every single time no matter who we’re playing. There is no allegiance conflict at all.”
Khawaja was four-and-a-half years old when the family moved to Sydney, and his life quickly became that of any young Australian. There was never any doubt over which country held Khawaja’s cricket future, and in 2011 he became the first Pakistan-born cricketer to win a baggy green.
“I’ve had glimpses of memories from before I left,” he said. “I was born in Islamabad. So I have glimpses of memories of our old place and whatnot, but nothing too circumstantial. Most of my childhood memories revolve around being in Australia, being in Sydney.”
The Pakistan series will not only pit Khawaja against the country of his birth, but also against his former Australia coach Mickey Arthur, who is now in charge of Pakistan’s side. Khawaja was one of the four players suspended during the homework saga in India in 2013, which was a key moment in the eventual downfall of Arthur as Australia’s coach.
“I’m not spiteful or vengeful in that sort of respect,” Khawaja said. “Mickey is a very good guy. He was very nice… every time we were around [each other] he was very helpful. It was such a long time ago. It was tough at the time but I was playing the next Test series anyway, so it didn’t really mean too much. I played the next Test series [in England] and didn’t play that well and then got dropped, so that wasn’t anyone else’s fault than myself.
“I’m not the kind of guy who holds onto grudges. If I get into a fight or get angry with someone I’m over it like that. Usually, anyway. I’m sure if I see Mickey there would be no issues. Everything would be good.”