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April 25, 2017

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Battling for UNSW

Rising Australian cricket star, Usman Khawaja, knows what it's like to combine a demanding sports career with university; during matches, when he wasn't on the field, he used to hole up in the change rooms to study.

"It was basically the only time I had during the weekends … I was also training almost every day," says the 24-year-old of the three years he spent studying full-time at UNSW while simultaneously making his way up the competitive cricket ladder.

Now the left-hander, who made his much-publicised Test debut earlier this year as the first Muslim to play for Australia, is back with UNSW, but in a very different role.

As the University's first Global Ambassador he'll be juggling an international cricket career with trips, functions, speaking engagements and campus visits to promote UNSW through his own experiences.

"It's not a hard sell," he says. "I just have to give an honest account of how much I enjoyed my time at UNSW. I knew I wanted to do something and this seemed like a good thing to do."

Usman says university "was so much fun" and as a Pakistani-born Australian there "were no barriers for any culture at UNSW".

Usman's résumé reads like one long "dream run" – if you don't know the back story. He says he realised at high school that he didn't want to get stuck behind a desk, and although cricket always "came first" he also knew he wanted a university qualification to keep his future career options open.

"I had travelled around quite a bit with my parents when I was younger and flying always appealed to me – although I never thought I'd actually do it," he says. But, after performing strongly in the Higher School Certificate, Usman was accepted into UNSW's Bachelor of Aviation (Flying) program, his first preference and a course with both an international reputation and its own training planes.

Only a month after graduating, he debuted for the NSW Blues, aged 21, and after progressing to the Australian squad he filled injured captain, Ricky Ponting's, number three batting spot in the fifth Ashes Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground, to positive reviews.

Now he's been signed to play for Derbyshire in the UK, during the Australian off-season.

The Australian media made much of Usman's religion during his Test debut, which didn't surprise or worry him.

"It was so far in the back of my own mind. All I could think about was representing Australia – that's not something you can expect to do, you just have to go out and do your best. It was a dream come true."

And then he received a message congratulating him from the Vice- Chancellor of UNSW, Professor Fred Hilmer, which triggered a series of discussions "about what he could do for UNSW".

Pro-Vice-Chancellor (International) Jennie Lang was one of those involved in the later discussions.

"The University is delighted to have Usman as our first Global Ambassador," says Lang. "He's an outstanding graduate and embodies UNSW's values at the highest level.

"As the face of the Global Citizens 360° X 365 Program, Usman will promote participation in international education exchanges, as well as encouraging students to take part in co- curricular activities such as sporting and cultural programs that foster teamwork," she says.

As for Usman, he sees the role as a help in any post-cricket career.

"You know I have never had a 'proper job' so I think it will build some useful extra skills," he says of the UNSW Global Ambassador's role.

"I would love to play cricket professionally for a long time. At the moment the future is an open book. But down the track I will always have my degree, so I will have options."

For further information about the University of New South Wales, visit or email

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