In a post a few years ago, I mentioned how Australia and New Zealand had next to no players of color in their teams, even though both countries have quite a sizable proportion of immigrants from the cricket-mad Indian sub-continent. Usman Khawaja, the child of Pakistani immigrants who entered the country when he was five, is one of the few players who did make it into the Australian national team and in an article he describes the racism he experienced growing up, often in the form of ‘sledging’, the term given to verbal abuse hurled at players on the opposing teams.
Getting sledged by opposition players and their parents was the norm. Some of them said it just quietly enough for only me to hear. It still hurt, but I would never show it. Most of the time it was when I scored runs. Some parents take things too seriously.
It is for this reason why so many of my friends, most of whom were born outside Australia, didn’t support Australia in sporting contests. I didn’t either.
Especially in cricket. It was either West Indies, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka. Anyone else. It’s probably why Brian Lara was my favourite cricketer. Let’s be honest, he was pretty good!
In hindsight, the fact we didn’t support Australia is disappointing. Everything that was going on in our childhood and around us built up this resentment of the Australian cricket team.
I mean, none of them looked like us. I was brought up to believe if I didn’t drink alcohol growing up I was un-Australian. So then why should I support a country that doesn’t believe in me?
I was brought up to be respectful, humble and polite. But when I watched the Aussie team, I saw men who were hard-nosed, confident, almost brutish. The same type of men who would sledge me about my heritage growing up.
So many times I was told by other sub continental parents, ‘You will never make it, you’re not the right skin colour’. No joke. That might have been true in some respects in past eras and generations, but it just drove me more to prove them all wrong. I wasn’t going to look back in regret.
Khawaja says that he now realizes that the people who behave that way are just a minority but that the changes in Australia and its cricket culture has been slow.