Usman Khawaja granted release from Sydney Thunder | Sydney Thunder - BBL
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Usman Khawaja granted release from Sydney Thunder

25 February 2022

Foundation player departs for family reasons

Sydney Thunder foundation player, Usman Khawaja, described his decision to invoke the release clause in his contract with the KFC Big Bash League club – due to family reasons – as the toughest decision of his career.

With Khawaja and his wife Rachel expecting their second child, the Brisbane-based 35-year-old – who was contracted to Thunder until the end of next summer - said he wanted to remain as close as possible to his family next summer.

“I hate talking about the decision I’ve made... it’s the toughest call I’ve made as a cricketer because Sydney Thunder, the players, the coaching and support staff, and the club’s supporters mean so much to me,” said Khawaja, Thunder’s all-time BBL leading runscorer with 1,818 runs and a career strikerate of 129.85.

“However, it is for family reasons, and while I’m leaving people who know me realise a big part of my heart will always remain with Thunder.

“I don’t want people to think I’ve cut my ties with Sydney Thunder because I’ll always care about the club; the players; the entire organisation.

“A part of that is because I believe I helped shape Thunder from the start. In many ways Sydney Thunder is, to me, like a baby I’ve watched grow and develop.”

Khawaja said the club’s status in the BBL – that of a respected and competitive team - justified his decision to stick with Thunder when he fielded offers from rival teams to leave and join them during Sydney Thunder’s tough, formative years in the elite T20 competition.

“Considering where we’ve come from, we’re in a great position,” said Khawaja. “We were a shambles in those early days; we played horribly and after winning the first two games we played we didn’t win another one for something like two years.

“But I believed in Thunder, and I loved that it represented the city’s western suburbs – I’m a proud ‘Westie’, always will be – and that’s why winning the title in BBL|05 was massive.

“I always thought that, at some stage, it had to turn around and in the leadup to our victory in BBL|05 we had players come in and things changed from an organisation's point of view. We had Nick Cummins come in [as General Manager] and other great people joined him.

“That, of course, flowed onto the team and it reached the point where we had Shane Watson, Michael Hussey, Clint McKay, and Jacques Kallis playing for us.

“And Thunder has built on that. It’s a strong organisation with great people, sponsors who are engaged in the club’s activities, the best supporters a team could ever hope for, and an exciting player base.

“Young guys like Jason Sangha and Ollie Davies are playing beautifully; Nathan McAndrew has been around for a while and is doing well; Chris Green has done so well at Thunder; Gurinder Sandhu has found his way back and is bowling great and Dan Sams has established himself as an international cricketer.

“It makes me proud to know Thunder has developed into a club that is respected; and a club that people want to play for and be a part of.”

Khawaja said he leaves the club knowing Sydney Thunder is on the right track to continue to grow and prosper.

“That is probably the greatest thing,” he said. “It’s quite special  to be at that stage because – as much as it sucks that I’m leaving – it’s not as though Thunder is in a position where the club is really struggling.

“Even though I was away for much of BBL|11 the team qualified for the finals after playing some amazing cricket.

“When you look at that, I know the club has a great and exciting future. Thunder has young players who are gaining confidence at BBL level and they’re putting some great performances together, and when you see a young group perform like that you start thinking they’ll contend for the title over the next two years.

“I think Sydney Thunder are capable of having long, sustained success with the players they have. Thunder’s biggest moments are still to come.”

Khawaja said one of his most enduring memories of his time with Sydney Thunder will be the loyalty of the club’s Members and supporters.

“I’d like to thank our Members and supporters for everything,” he said. “I’ve said for a long time that from what I’ve seen, Sydney Thunder has the greatest supporters because even in those first few years where we struggled we had crowds packed into the ground, supporting us and giving us love.

“I don’t think any team has a fan base that is so loyal, and the players know that... I thank them all for everything because they brought so much to the experience.”

Michael Klinger, Cricket NSW’s Head of Male Cricket, said Thunder had wanted to keep Khawaja at the club and tabled a long-term deal to him at the end of BBL|11.

“It’s disappointing because Usman is such a well-respected member of Thunder,” said Klinger.

“Sydney Thunder and CNSW definitely wanted him to stay, and we offered a highly competitive contract.

“However, we appreciate Usman’s decision has been made for his family, and we respect and support that.

“Usman leaves Sydney Thunder with our best wishes for the future. He’s a foundation player who leaves a legacy as a great competitor and player, a strong leader, and someone who actively helped Thunder become the club he always believed it could be.”