Usman Khawaja's brilliant response after ugly pre-match furore in first cricket Test

The 36-year-old faced ugly backlash online over an issue that is deeply close to his heart.

Pictured here is Aussie Test cricket star Usman Khawaja.
Usman Khawaja rose above the pre-match drama to star for Australia in the first Test against Pakistan. Pic: Getty

All the talk around Usman Khawaja ahead of the first Test against Pakistan surrounded the humanitarian message that the Aussie cricket star was banned from displaying on his shoes in Perth. The 36-year-old revealed he was subjected to vile abuse on social media after the International Cricket Council denied him the chance to wear the shoes that had slogans "all lives are equal" and "freedom is a human right" written on them during Australia's crushing 360-run win at Optus Stadium.

Cricket Australia stood by the ICC's ban on political messages so Khawaja ended up wearing a black armband during the match, as a way of paying tribute to the innocent lives lost in the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Khawaja - who was born in Pakistan - explained how the conflict had deeply affected him and insisted his message was not a political statement.

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Khawaja said seeing young children dying in the current conflict made him think about his own young children, with the 36-year-old sporting the initials of his daughters on his shoes throughout the Test. “When I see thousands of innocent people dying without any repercussion or remorse, I imagine my two girls," he said in a video posted to social media before the series. What if this was them? No one chooses where they’re born. And then I see the world turn their backs on them, my heart can’t take it.”

The 36-year-old revealed the ugly extent of backlash that he copped on social media over his humanitarian views. “If me saying all lives are equal has resulted in people being offended, to the point where they’re calling me up and telling me off, isn’t that the bigger problem?” Khawaja asked in his social media video. "These people obviously don’t believe in what I’ve written, and it’s not just a handful of people, you’d be shocked about how many feel this way.”

Seen here, Usman Kawaja with his wife and daughters.
Usman Kawaja is seen here with his wife and daughters during the Ashes series in 2023. Pic: Getty

Usman Khawaja rises above controversy in first Test

Khawaja could have let the off-field issues affect his performance in the first Test, but the veteran batter was superb for Australia - particularly in the second innings on an Optus Stadium surface that was offering plenty to the bowlers. Having made a solid 41 in the first innings, Khawaja followed it up with a superb 90 in the second dig.

The classy opener did it the hard way at times after copping a brutal delivery from Pakistan debutant Aamir Jamal that hit him in the arm. Khawaja was left in considerable pain after the incident and required several minutes of medical attention from the Aussie staff, before pushing Australia's lead past 450 runs on Sunday.

While the left-hander missed the chance to register a 16th Test century, it was an important knock for Australia on a day where batting proved difficult for many others. The fact Pakistan were rolled for just 89 runs later that day highlighted how good Khawaja's knock was.

“His character and temperament really helped him today,” Aussie cricket great Michael Hussey said. “He’s an unflappable sort of character. On that pitch, you need a lot of luck. You need to cop a few on the body, and he just stayed in his little bubble. He didn’t panic, he stayed in control, he kept playing his way, picked up the odd boundary whenever he could. It looked difficult out there, but it just showed how good he is. To make 90 on that pitch is pretty amazing.”

Khawaja has now scored more Test runs than any other batter in 2023, with his 1168 runs coming at the superb average of 55.61. His nine scores above 50 is the also the most by any batter in 2023 and the opener has faced a staggering 2689 balls - the most of any batter in Test cricket this year. The 36-year-old's two digs against Pakistan in the first Test have also pushed his average as an opener up to a remarkable 60.82.

The imminent Test retirement of Khawaja's opening partner David Warner - who is set to farewell red-ball cricket after the New Year's Test in Sydney - has also raised questions about how long Khawaja has left in the Test side. Fox Cricket's Kerry O'Keeffe suggested Khawaja still has plenty of cricket left in him before considering retirement. “He’s in the twilight... but is he?” O’Keeffe said on Fox Cricket after Khawaja's superb display in Perth.

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