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Khawaja makes history as first Muslim in Australian cricket team

Usman Khawaja has made a big impression since making his first-class debut for New South Wales in 2008.
Usman Khawaja has made a big impression since making his first-class debut for New South Wales in 2008.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Pakistan-born Usman Khawaja the first Muslim to be selected in an Australian Test squad
  • The 23-year-old Khawaja may play against his country of birth in series in Britain
  • Khawaja, a fully-qualified pilot, was born in Islamabad but moved to Australia when young
  • The two-Test series was moved to England due to safety concerns in Pakistan

(CNN) -- Pakistan-born Usman Khawaja has become the first Muslim to be selected in an Australian cricket squad -- and could now play against his country of birth in Britain next month.

Khawaja, who was born in Islamabad but moved to Australia at the age of four, said he was "shocked" at being selected for the two-Test series, which was moved to England due to safety concerns in Pakistan due to last year's extremist attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team bus.

"I was a bit shocked, I had a feeling I was close but that could mean absolutely nothing," he told Cricket Australia's official website.

"The feeling didn't really sink in straight away but I've told my family and they're really excited."

The feeling didn't really sink in straight away but I've told my family and they're really excited
--Usman Khawaja
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Khawaja, who is also a fully-qualified pilot, was named in a strong 14-man Australian side for the series which begins on July 13.

The 23-year-old made headlines in 2008 when he became the first cricketer of Pakistani-Australian background to play first-class cricket in Australia, making his debut for New South Wales in an inter-state match against Victoria.

He is, however, not the first player from the sub-continent to represent Australia -- Sri Lanka-born Dav Whatmore played seven Tests in 1979-80.

National selection panel chairman Andrew Hilditch said Khawaja's inclusion in the squad was down to the player's strong performances at state competition level, which saw him score 698 runs and three centuries last season.

"Usman Khawaja has been selected on the back of some very strong Sheffield Shield performances," Hilditch said in a statement on Cricket Australia's official website.

"He is seen by the panel as being capable of batting anywhere in the order in Test cricket, but importantly for this particular series as a top-order batsman who could bat in the top four should the opportunity arise."

Fast bowler Ben Hilfenhaus also returned to the squad after missing out on the tour of New Zealand in March with knee tendonitis.

His inclusion is timely, as he is considered vital to Australia's bid to regain the Ashes when England tour Down Under in November.

"Ben Hilfenhaus has successfully returned from injury during the current Australia A series in Queensland," Hilditch said.

"Ben was a critical member of our 2009 Ashes bowling group and it is very pleasing to see him back in the Test squad with the next Ashes series just around the corner."

Left-arm fast bowler Mitchell Johnson and wicketkeeper Brad Haddin have also been included after both recovered from elbow injuries.

The two Tests between Australia and Pakistan will take place at Lord's in London on July 13-17 and Headingley in Leeds from July 21-25.