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Australians replace captain Ponting with first Muslim player

Usman Khawaja will become the first Muslim to play cricket for Australia.
Usman Khawaja will become the first Muslim to play cricket for Australia.
  • Ricky Ponting injured for the fifth and final Ashes test against England
  • Usman Khawaja will replace him
  • Khwaja will become the first Muslim to play cricket for Australia
  • England lead the series 2-1, and have retained their titled

(CNN) -- It has been a watershed moment for Australian cricket.

The sport-crazy country's national team has been humiliated during the Ashes series against an England side they would once routinely embarrass.

Australia's crushing innings and 157-run defeat in Melbourne marks the end of a golden period where the team had dominated the game for the best part of a decade.

The result means that England, the holders, take an unassailable 2-1 lead into the fifth and final Test next week and will retain the Ashes even if Australia salvage some pride with a victory in Sydney to square the series.

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Yet every cloud has a silver lining.

On one hand, the hosts will have to make do without captain Ricky Ponting, still regarded as one of the finest batsmen of the modern game, who has been ruled out due to a troublesome fractured finger.

Ashes victory for England

But his absence could mark a wholly different watershed: his replacement, 24-year-old Usman Khawaja, is set to become the first Muslim to play for the Australian national cricket team.

"It's been a childhood dream for me," Khawaja, who was born in Pakistan before moving to Australia as a young boy, told the Cricinfo website.

"Ever since I can remember I wanted to play for Australia."

Khawaja has been waiting in the wings throughout the series, and has been in sparkling form in Australia's domestic Sheffield Shield, boasting the highest average in the competition, close to 75.

It shows that it's a fair system and whoever puts in effort can achieve anything in this country
--Tariq Khawaja

The same can't be said for Ponting. A horrendous run of form with the bat, combined with his team's largely abject displays throughout the series, has seen the 36-year-old receive a mauling from the Australian media.

England retain cricket's Ashes with innings victory in Melbourne

But the promotion of Khawaja to the first team has come at a time when Australian cricket needs a good news story, and at a time when the country's attitudes to immigration and multiculturalism have been put under the spotlight by recent tragedy.

As many as 50 Iraqi and Iranian Kurdish immigrants died when their boat sunk off the coast of Christmas Island last month, an Australian territory that holds thousands of failed asylum seekers in detention camps to prevent them entering the mainland.

An Amnesty International report on the conditions at the island condemned "the sheer number of individuals who had clearly been suffering both physically and psychologically from the conditions of prolonged detention. Many had been detained for over a year, and incidents of self-harm and suicide attempts were visibly on the rise."

And while a survey by Australian TV network SBS in the aftermath of the tragedy found that 62% of those questioned agreed that Australia should be a multicultural society a minority, only 48%, "believe migrants should be able to maintain their culture without prejudice or disadvantage."

But for some, the emergence of Khawaja can have a far wider impact than leveling what has been a disastrous Ashes series for Australia.

''Obviously it will have a positive impact; It's good for the [Muslim] community," Tariq Khawaja, Usman's father, told the Sydney Morning Herald.

''It shows that it's a fair system and whoever puts in effort can achieve anything in this country. Not only Muslims, any religion.

"As a youngster, if you have passion and if you have dreams, you can make it work.''