SYDNEY, 19 JUNE: Pakistan-born leg-spinner Fawad Ahmed (in photo) was on Wednesday named on the Australia A squad for a tour of Africa beginning next month, despite also being in contention for selection for the Ashes series against England.
Ahmed was added to the 15-man squad for the July and August tour along with Ashton Agar, who has Sri Lankan grandparents and pacer Gurinder Sandhu, born in Australia but of Indian heritage.
"This is a young squad with an abundance of talent and all players will be pressing for higher honours," national selector John Inverarity said.
Ahmed and Agar are joined by five fellow members of the current Australia A squad in England — Alex Doolan, Moises Henriques, Chadd Sayers, Nic Maddinson and Steve Smith — as well as three players from the ICC Champions Trophy Squad — Mitchell Marsh, Glenn Maxwell and Nathan Coulter-Nile.
Inverarity said Smith had been appointed captain and Tim Paine would be wicketkeeper, while top-order batsman Shaun Marsh was "being provided with another opportunity".
"It will be a very good opportunity for him as it will be for Aaron Finch who did so well against the England Lions in February," he said.
Inverarity said opening bowler Sandhu was "most impressive at the end of the Australian summer" and deserved this recognition, while Josh Hazlewood is a good prospect for South Africa.
"Should replacements be required for the Ashes tour these players will be playing in a similar time zone from during this time," he said.
Ahmed is not yet eligible to play in the national team but the prospects of the 31-year-old playing for his adopted country improved dramatically when a bill to amend the Citizenship Act, which will help fast-track his application, passed through Australia’s lower house of parliament earlier this month.
Once approved by the Senate, the new legislation will give Australia’s immigration minister the power to apply shorter residential requirements on some citizenship applicants, such as elite athletes with the potential to represent Australia, as in Ahmed’s case.
Bowler Pat Cummins, recovering from a back injury, will accompany the squad as a development player. Inverarity said Cummins rehabilitation was progressing well and he would play in a couple of very low intensity games in Ireland this week.
"There is a possibility he could play towards the backend of the tour to South Africa also," Inverarity added.
Australia A play three, four-day matches beginning on July 18 against Zimbabwe in Harare. They play South Africa A in Pretoria from July 24 and again from July 31 in Rustenburg. They then take part in a one-day series against South Africa A and India A beginning August 6.
Australia A squad: Steve Smith (captain), Aaron Finch (vice-captain), Ashton Agar, Fawad Ahmed, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Alex Doolan, Josh Hazlewood, Moises Henriques, Nic Maddinson, Mitchell Marsh, Shaun Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Tim Paine, Gurinder Sandhu, Chadd Sayers.
Inverarity has told England now is not the time to dismiss his side’s chances of regaining the Ashes, despite the controversy currently engulfing the tourists.
Title-holders Australia’s early exit from the Champions Trophy tournament in the UK, which included a defeat by arch-rivals England, was compounded when David Warner was suspended until next month’ first Test for a bar-room attack on home batsman Joe Root and fined Aus$11,500.
Warner’s conduct was labelled "despicable" by Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland, yet the opening batsman was allowed to remain on tour rather than be sent home. It all raised fresh questions about the squad’s discipline, particularly in the light of the "homework" incident in India earlier this year when four Australia players were made to miss a Test for failing to provide feedback requested by team management during the course of a 4-0 series loss. Captain Michael Clarke, now Australia’s best batsman, has not played a competitive match since March owing to a recurrence of a back injury he suffered in India and was absent again as the team’s Champions Trophy exit was confirmed by Monday’s 20-run loss to Sri Lanka at the Oval.
Australia’s 16-man Ashes squad lack the stellar names of recent times, with Ricky Ponting, now playing for English county Surrey, among the absentees.
But Inverarity insisted the Ashes squad contained the "best players available" and that history showed Australia teams written off before a tour of England had a habit of making critics eat their words.
"In 1968 it was said that we had one of the weakest squads, that was 1-1," former Test batsman Inverarity, last man out when a Derek Underwood-inspired England won the final Test at the Oval but Australia retained the Ashes, told BBC Radio’s Test Match Special.
"And another time I remember the English Press said it was most certainly the weakest team to come to England was in 1989 and Australia won the series 4-0. We have got in that squad of 16 the best players available. We are looking forward to them acquitting themselves well and we will see what happens."
Warner has been banned up until the start of the first Ashes Test in Nottingham, on 10 July and with Australia’s squad containing several other opening batsmen, his immediate Ashes prospects appear gloomy.
But Inverarity insisted Warner could yet feature at Trent Bridge despite being banned from Australia’s two warm-up matches. "Yes, he has a chance to play, certainly," Inverarity said. "In any cricket season in years gone by you might have a wet start to the season. Players sometimes miss games and then come back and make centuries."
Inverarity, who combined his cricket career with being a schoolmaster, insisted Australia did not face fundamental problems regarding players’ discipline.
"There have been one or two hiccups but basically they are a very decent, nice bunch of young men who behave themselves extremely well," he said. "I don’t think that has changed over the years."
Clarke is expected to return for Australia’s first warm-up game against Somerset next Wednesday. "We very much need him at the helm," Inverarity said. "He is a very good captain and the troops are right behind him and we very much miss him when he is not there although George Bailey has done a good job in his absence."