Visions of Anwar inspire Khawaja before Pakistan Tests

Joel Gould |

Usman Khawaja’s competitive desire remains strong at age 36 ahead of the first Test against Pakistan
Usman Khawaja’s competitive desire remains strong at age 36 ahead of the first Test against Pakistan

Every cricketer has their heroes which is why Pakistan-born Usman Khawaja gets on a roll when he waxes lyrical about former opener Saeed Anwar.

The rubber wrists of Anwar caressed 4052 Test runs at an average of 45.52 for Pakistan in a manner that was aesthetically pleasing and effective.

Fellow left-handed opener Khawaja, 36, is preparing for Australia’s three-Test series against Pakistan, a nation he has a Bradmanesque average of 99.20 against in eight Tests.

There was a hint of nostalgia in the air when he reminisced about Anwar – perhaps because Khawaja, with 5004 Test runs at 47.20, also likes to score big and entertain.

Saeed Anwar
Saeed Anwar (l) was a cricketing hero for Usman Khawaja. (AP PHOTO)

“I used to love watching Saeed Anwar bat. He was so good on the eye,” Khawaja told AAP.

“He was very wristy. I am still wristy, but a different kind. Our scoring areas would be very similar. It is just the way he went about it.  It was beautiful…so fluent to watch.

“Probably the biggest compliment I get from people is not about the hundreds I’ve scored but when they say, ‘I love watching you bat’.

“I always gravitated towards the left-handers. Anwar, Brian Lara and Adam Gilchrist were the three…all flamboyant…all played with flair and they were all entertainers.”

Khawaja has passed 50 nine times in his 13 innings against Pakistan in Test cricket, turning three of those knocks into centuries.

He said there was no change in his approach or desire when he played against the nation of his birth.

“All series are special for me whether it is Pakistan, South Africa, West Indies, India…it is Test cricket for your country. I just seem to play well against Pakistan but I go out and play the same way,” Khawaja said.

“My dad (Tariq), he obviously grew up in Pakistan and supported Pakistan in cricket and would have been about 40 when we emigrated. 

“I am sure for him there is a bit of nostalgia when I play Pakistan. There certainly was nostalgia when I was in Pakistan (in 2022) because growing up I used to hear my dad talk about going to watch cricket games in Karachi at the stadium.

“So me getting a Test hundred in Karachi (with an innings of 160), that was really special. That meant a lot. I love Australia, but I never forget where I came from. 

“Some of my dad’s heroes were Pakistani cricketers. He talks a lot about Javed Miandad, probably his favourite batsman, and Zaheer Abbas. Even growing up I watched a lot of Australia v Pakistan cricket because my family watched a lot of it…so guys like Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis.”

 Australia are favourites to beat Pakistan but Khawaja is expecting a genuine contest in the three-Test series that starts in Perth on Thursday.

“It will be tough. People always want to discard Pakistan but that bowling attack is tough work,” he said.

“Shaheen Shah Afridi is a world class bowler opening up. Then you have (medium-fast) Hasan Ali who has been a stalwart for them for a long time and is very skilful. (Allrounder) Faheem Ashraf is coming down here too and they have got a lot of spinners (including Noman Ali and Abrar Ahmed)

“The biggest thing for Pakistan is whether their batting can hold up in our conditions.

“Perth will be bouncy but I think Melbourne and Sydney will suit Pakistan more, and particularly Sydney which is a bit slower and lower. That is what you want. You want a contest.”

Khawaja has seven Tests, including two against West Indies at home and two away to New Zealand, coming up in the next three months. The competitive desire to keep playing Test cricket still burns in him for now. 

“I feel like in my head if I looked for a finish line then the finish line wouldn’t be too far ahead, but I don’t want to think about the finish line. It is not in my psyche,” he said.

“The only time it comes into my psyche is when people keep asking me. I get it. The reason they ask is because I am 36 turning 37 and a lot of people do retire then. 

“For me, it is just about playing. I am fit and healthy. Mentally, I still want to compete. I always wondered whether my mental desire would finish. I am very different mentally with the way I play now, but I am still as competitive as I ever was. 

“I want to score runs and I want to win cricket games. That hasn’t changed.”