Why so serious? Usman keeps it light-hearted

A potentially career-ending injury and the death of a close mate helped Usman Khawaja discover a healthy, relaxed approach

Usman Khawaja says the loss of friend and former teammate Phillip Hughes and the serious knee injury he suffered just weeks later gave him a new, more relaxed perspective on life and cricket.

And he credits his Muslim faith with helping to maintain that fresh approach as he re-built his international career last season in sensational fashion.

Khawaja and Hughes were born less than two years apart and played alongside each other for years, moving through the ranks together of both New South Wales and Australian cricket.

Khawaja and Hughes at an SCG training session just before the former's Test debut // Getty

The devastating emotional blow of Hughes's death after he was struck on the neck during a match at the SCG in November 2014 was compounded for Khawaja by the physical pain and resultant mental anguish of a serious knee injury that threatened to derail career.

But after a quicker than expected recovery from surgery, Khawaja starred on last winter's 'A' tour of India where he was captain and returned to the Australian set-up last November carrying a fresh perspective on life and the game.

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And the 29-year-old says the new attitude stemming from that life-changing summer of 2014-15 has flowed on to his batting.

"We obviously lost Hughesy and I did my knee in the space of two weeks, so it was a pretty rough time," Khawaja said on Tuesday in Guyana ahead of Australia's one-day international tri-series in the West Indies.

"So you just sort of learn to let go a little bit.

"When I first came into the Australian team (in 2011) I wanted to make such a good impression and to do so much and so well, which is normal for a young kid.

"Now I'm just more relaxed about it all. What's meant to be is meant to be.

"I train really hard, I do the right things at training, and then when the game time comes I just try and compete and if it's good enough, it's good enough. If it's not, so be it."

Khawaja concedes this approach can be difficult to maintain in the high-pressure environment of international cricket, where many an hour is spent alone in hotel rooms with nothing but one's thoughts for company.

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And he says it's been his religion that has helped him stay on course.

Pakistan-born Khawaja has never shied away from his faith, but rarely has he spoken expansively about it in a public forum, preferring to keep a deeply personal aspect of his life behind closed doors.

But Khawaja was happy to reveal on Tuesday that when bad habits from the early days of his career come creeping back into his psyche, he turns to prayer.

"The game can be quite tough at times and stressful and emotional ... so you have to find a way to bring yourself back to your centre," he says.

"And everyone does that in different ways. I have my own way and I do it because you play so much cricket and so much is going on, you can sometimes forget about that sort of stuff. It's a good question because it happens a lot.

"I pray. That's what keeps me centred. The number one most important thing in my life is religion. That comes first and that helps me with everything else, cricket included.

Hughes and Khawaja played seven Tests together, the last at Lord's in 2013 // Getty

"I haven't become any more religious (since Hughes died). I think I've just found a happy medium of religion helping me with life in general.

"It sort of happens when something as big as what happened a couple of years ago with Hughesy happens.

"I think everyone took it in a different way. Everyone finds different avenues and aspects so that's one big one for me."

This month is a significant one for all Muslims, with the annual month-long observance of Ramadan – where believers fast from dawn until sunset – beginning next week.

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Khawaja says he will try to fast when he can during this series in the Caribbean, but says it's impossible to perform at his best on game day without the proper nutrition.

And that balanced approach to religion and cricket is backed by another man who will feature in this series, star South African batsman and Muslim Hashim Amla.

"I'll be trying to fast on days off and hopefully some travel days, but not match days," Khawaja says. "That's too hard to do that.

"I've even spoken to Hashim about that and he was like 'Nah, no chance'.

"Match days are too tough, but the other days I'll definitely be having a crack."

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