Usman Khawaja at centre of 'spiteful' swipe after India visa debacle

The Australian opener's encountered difficulties getting an Indian visa for the third time in his career, a problem not faced by any teammates.

Usman Khawaja.
Usman Khawaja's application for an Indian visa was held up once again due to his dual citizenship in Pakistan. (Photo by Pankaj Nangia/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

The treatment of Australian batsman Usman Khawaja has been torn to shreds by a former Indian cricket administrator, after the opener encountered difficulties in obtaining a visa to travel to the country for the recent Test series. Khawaja, a dual citizen of Australia and Pakistan thanks to his birth in Islamabad, had a delay getting his visa approved while the rest of the Australian side was permitted entry without issue.

Former BCCI administrator and Indian historian Ramachandra Guha has now slammed the delay, labelling it 'spiteful' and criticising both cricket authorities and the Indian government for allowing it to happen. The two nations have historically been at odds since they were formed due to the breakup of British India back in 1947.

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“Khawaja is a fine cricketer, he played very impressively, and to hold up his visa was an act of spitefulness,” he told Indian publication The Wire. “It was a vicious and spiteful act and in some ways, given all that went on, it is poetic justice that Khawaja scored a hundred.” He went on to add that not only was the visa hold-up a poor reflection on the Indian government and the prime minister, but also the Indian people.

Guha said the intersection of cricket and politics in India had gone too far, particularly after the fourth Test in Ahdedabad - the home state of Prime Minster Narendra Modi. Some 85,000 tickets had been set aside for a political rally attended by Australian prime minister Anthony Albanese, which delayed the start of the match and resulted in the players not being able to warm up on the field.

The Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party has been criticised for its right-wing 'Hindutva' ideology, which has resulted in widespread discrimination against Muslims - the largest minority group in India. Khawaja is a practicing Muslim, and has previously spoken out about his difficulties in entering India.

He needed the political lobbying of Cricket Australia and Cricket NSW to play in the 2011 Champions League tournament in India, after he was denied due to Indian authorities insisting he must apply for a visa on a Pakistan passport. A second incident ahead of a 2020 ODI series saw his passport withheld by authorities.

India have become world cricket's 'big bullies

Long-running political tensions between the neighbouring countries have resulted in Pakistan not playing any matches in India since 2013. Pakistan cricketers have been forbidden from playing in the Indian Premier League, a hangover from the 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai.

“In my view, Pakistan should be able to play in India and come for the World Cup because cricketers are not terrorists, cricketers don’t represent their government, they just play a sport,” Guha said. “India has become the big bully of world cricket, and the IPL has allowed it. Many ex-cricketers, including Australian cricketers, are part of this, because they want contracts to commentate on the IPL.

“There was a scandal in Ahmedabad earlier this week because there weren’t any tickets available for the first day because (Prime Minister) Mr Modi had a captive audience, there was a pushback on social media, but no cricketer talked about it. Don’t (Ricky) Ponting and Michael Clarke, and (Matthew) Hayden and the others care about fans? Australian fans?”

Usman Khawaja plays a shot during a Test match against India.
Usman Khawaja had a standout series with the bat in India, dispelling his reputation for struggling against spin. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

Khawaja didn't bat on the final day of play in India, after he was helped from the field by the team doctor following a catching attempt gone wrong on the boundary on day four. "He did have a scan, which is standard procedure. The imaging did not reveal anything conclusive," an Australian team spokesman said.

"He has soreness in his left lower leg, just below the knee on the outside of the lower leg."

The in-form opener had a long conversation with Australia coach Andrew McDonald before the start of play and tried running slowly on Monday's fifth and final day of the Test.

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