Australia turn to Khawaja and Beer as they search for light in dying embers of Ashes
Published 03/01/2011 | 05:00
Australian sociologists will be as interested as the country's cricket fans in watching how the two new Baggy Greens, Michael Beer and Usman Khawaja, fare in the final Ashes Test.
The pair will not see it this way, but they represent the old and the new of Australian society. Beer is a left-arm spinner and the kind of larrikin have-a-go competitor all but phased out by this over-regulated country.
Khawaja is a left-handed batsman and the first Muslim to play for Australia, though a product of its cricket system.
Born in Pakistan, Khawaja (24) is that rare breed -- an Australian Test cricketer born outside the country. In the last 80 years, there have been only six others, the most recent being Andrew Symonds (born in England), Brendon Julian (New Zealand) and Kepler Wessels (South Africa).
It is not remotely reflective of today's Australian society, of which 20pc have been born overseas.
Watch Khawaja bat and you can tell he is the product of two cultures, the traditional Australian steel softened by wristy flicks and flourishes that tend to be bestowed on those with DNA from the subcontinent.
He has already played against England for Australia 'A' at Hobart, making 13 and 0, caught behind off pace bowling both times.
If there is one stereotype that does fit, it is the Asian distrust of a career as unreliable as professional cricket. Just in case it did not work out, Khawaja qualified as a pilot first.
As a cricketer he has reached the ultimate destination, something Simon Katich, his state captain, predicted when he presented him with his cap for New South Wales.
Katich had already given him his district cap for grade club Randwick Petersham, and handing him the other told him, "there's still one more to go".
Beer was also championed by an Australia Test player, Shane Warne, with whom he occasionally played at St Kilda, in Melbourne.
Beer, a tall left-arm spinner now with Western Australia, has played just seven first-class matches. Yet, such was the disillusionment with Xavier Doherty after Australia's defeat at Adelaide that Warne name-checked his old mate and, hey presto, he was picked in the squad for the next Test in Perth, though he had to wait until Sydney before getting his chance.
In an age where sports seek to become ultra professional, Beer (26) is a throwback to a time when talented amateurs could hold their own with the game's best. Leading wicket-taker for St Kilda in four successive seasons, he has been nowhere near an academy or a state team until now.
Indeed, his first state contract came this year when he went west to Western Australia to find his fortune, something Mitchell Johnson and Adam Gilchrist had done before him.
Before he turned up at practice on Saturday, Beer had only ever seen the Sydney Cricket Ground on television.
Of the two debutants, Khawaja is arguably under the more pressure. He is taking Ricky Ponting's spot at No 3, thus ending one of the longest and most revered tenancies in the team and one, judging from the way Ponting has hung around Australia's practices like a grand old patriarch unhappy at handing over the family firm, that is not fully vacated yet.
As a spinner, Beer could get a decent run or be quickly usurped by the next big thing. Much depends on how he bowls here. If he fails, his replacement may have to come from even further left-field. And in Australia, there is precious little out there. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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