Khawaja stands tall in the Long Room: A lesson for people of colour

What Aussie cricketer Usman Khawaja’s conduct in the Long Room at Lord’s truly means to migrants.

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Other than David Warner, the only other cricketer who confronted the abuse at lunch on Day 5 of the Lord’s test, was Usman Khawaja. Calm and composed, he called out those who were hurling the taunts. As to what was exactly said is not certain, but one can be sure that it would not have been pretty.

Khawaja earned his place in the Australian national team in 2011, having battled his way through club and grade cricket. He became the first Pakistani-born cricketer to play for Australia. One doubts that his journey would have been easy, as he broke into a club which is, let’s say it, dominated by white cricketers.

While in the 1940s and ‘50s, some religious factors (Catholic v Protestant) were believed to have played a slight role in the national cricket team, here for the first time was a Muslim player in the running to wear the baggy green.

He probably faced early acceptance from his teammates, but from those in the higher echelons of the cricket hierarchy, there would have been hesitation about the brown boy from Pakistan.

But he persisted and made it to the highest levels (although even the commentators were rather hard on him during his slump of form in 2018-2019.)

Only recently, ahead of the highly anticipated 2023 Border-Gavaskar Trophy, the Pakistan-born Khawaja was the only member of the Australian team to face visa issues. A delayed visa caused him to miss his flight to India alongside his teammates, forcing him to fly to Melbourne and spend the night in an airport hotel.

Perhaps it was these experiences of exclusionary behaviour that made it difficult to walk away from the chants of ‘cheaters’ and other abuses thrown at him inside the privileged Long Room. Those chanting were MCC members (note the double-barrelled surnames), abusing the privilege of being in the mecca of cricket that is Lord‘s.

While the rest of the team bounded up the stairs to their dressing room, this veteran of many abuses suffered, was able to hold his own.

My takeaway from this episode is that we as migrants need to be comfortable in our own skins and have the strength in calling out abusive or racist slurs.

Such strength can only increase from engaging extensively with those outside our own communities, to better understand and debate wide-ranging issues.

To ignore racist or unacceptable behaviour is not an option, as it only encourages the abuser.

To make it a shouting match will not win the battle either.

Instead, calmly reasoned action is required to take on the abuser. An inner confidence is the key, and all migrant Australians would do well to take a leaf from Khawaja’s conduct in this matter.

Thankfully most people are accepting of differences; those who are not, can be challenged in a calm and composed manner.

Usman Khawaja showed us how it can be done. His stature has only grown following the Long Room encounter.

READ ALSO: When MCC members torched the Spirit of Cricket

Pawan Luthra
Pawan Luthra
Pawan is the publisher of Indian Link and is one of Indian Link's founders. He writes the Editorial section.

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