Australia batsman Usman Khawaja has revealed that he was the target of racist sledging from opposing players and parents while playing cricket at school.
Khawaja was born in Pakistan but relocated to Australia with his parents when he was five years old.
The left-hander has spoken about how racial and islamaphobic abuse was almost the norm for him growing up to the extent that he would never support Australia in international contests.
Khawaja told the PlayersVoice.com website: “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.”
Khawaja believes that both cricket and the wider society have matured since then and he sees greater acceptance of diverse people in the future.
He added: “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.
“Now subcontinental parents can see a future for their kids, at a younger age. It isn’t about making a choice – study or cricket – like my Mum wanted me to do.”
Khawaja is delighted that there are other young players of colour coming through the ranks in Australia.
He went on: “And I can see it, in the domestic cricketers of all ages that are coming through now, compared to when I started playing and was the only Asian player at first class level in the whole country.
“Now we have Gurinder Sandhu, who is a close friend of mine from Sydney Thunder and represented Australia. Another youngster from the Thunder is Arjun Nair, an excellent young, up-and-coming player.
“Being racially vilified actually made me stronger in many respects.”
The 30-year-old can’t point to anything specific that has triggered greater acceptance within cricket but he is thrilled at the prospect of a team that reflects the diversity of Australia.
He said: “So why is there an emergence of multi race players now in Australia? Maybe it was inevitable with the growing multicultural community in Australia. Maybe it was a few friendly faces at the highest level. We will never know.
“What I do know is Australian cricket is slowly changing and will finally have a chance to reflect what Australia really is.
“An international team truly representative of its richly diverse population.”