Paul Kelly Returns To Cricket With 'Khawaja'

5 July 2023 | 9:54 am | Mary Varvaris

“I wanted the new recording to have the simple, unadorned style of that original phone version. No frills. Like the way Uzzie bats.”

Paul Kelly

Paul Kelly (Credit: Michael Hili)

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Paul Kelly, Australia’s premier storyteller, has returned to cricket with a tribute to the Australian cricket team’s Usman Khawaja after the big win over England at The Ashes a few days ago.

Like many of Kelly’s finest songs, it’s just him and an acoustic guitar as he honours an Australian sporting hero. After originally posting the song to YouTube last year, Kelly brought Khawaja to the studio as the cricketer celebrated his maiden test century on UK soil and named Man Of The Match as part of the Australian team’s triumphant win of the first Ashes Test at Edgbaston.

Usman Khawaja is the first Pakistani-born Muslim Australian player to receive a Test Cricket cap. “I’ve always loved the way Usman Khawaja bats,” Kelly said about his tribute. “Hemingway’s famous description of courage as ‘grace under pressure’ could have been written for him. There’s grace in his stroke-making and in the way he dealt with being in and out of the team, sometimes unfairly, over many years.”

He added, “The song jumped into my head on the last day of his twin-ton game against England at the SCG in January 2022. It pretty much wrote itself, helped by a melody from a seventy-year-old Hank Williams song, and I sang it into my phone straight away.

“I wanted the new recording to have the simple, unadorned style of that original phone version. No frills. Like the way Uzzie bats.”

In addition to the song, Kelly released a picture book, Khawaja, featuring illustrations by Sri Lankan/Australian illustrator and cartoonist Avinash Weerasekera. You can buy a copy of the book here and listen to Khawaja below.

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Kelly said, “The illustrations by Avinash Weerasekera to the words of the song are brilliant. The book looks really good. I hope people have fun with it, with the pictures, words and singing!”

In April, Paul Kelly unleashed a cover of the Sunnyboys’ classic hit, Alone With You, as part of Mushroom's 50th-anniversary celebrations.

Staying close to the original track, Kelly detailed his creative approach to covering Sunnyboys: "I love the bittersweetness of the song, its minor-major ambiguity, its melancholy wrapped in pure rock ’n’ roll joy. 

"I hear the words ‘alone with you’ two ways: ‘We’re alone together, just us’ or ‘I’m with you, but I’m still alone.’ Jeremy [Oxley] carries both those meanings in his singing. That’s the genius of the song. And there’s genius in the guitar break, too. A brilliant, yearning modulation of chords that lifts off to pure transcendence.”