SYDNEY, 6 JUNE: Former Pakistani asylum-seeker Fawad Ahmed (in photo) moved a step closer to playing in next month’s Ashes series against England after being rushed into the Australia A squad for their tour of Britain today.
The prospects of Ahmed, 31, 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 Wednesday.
“Fawad is a spin bowler of interest and we look forward to seeing how he performs for Australia A,” chief selector John Inverarity said, expressing confidence his citizenship would soon be awarded.
While the legislation still needs to go through the upper house, Cricket Australia said it appeared there was enough support for it to become law.
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. Currently, according to the International Cricket Council’s Player Eligibility Criteria, Ahmed will only become eligible for national selection on August 18.
But CA said should the bill become law, and Ahmed obtains citizenship and an Australian passport before that date, he will immediately be available for the national side.
The opening Test of the Ashes series takes place in Nottingham on July 10. The ICC’s Player Eligibility Criteria does not apply to being picked for A teams, so Ahmed is able to join Australia A’s current tour, CA said.
Ahmed, 31, will leave for Britain this weekend and be available for the Australia A tour matches against Ireland (14-17 June) and Gloucestershire (21-23 June).
“I am very happy. It is a great opportunity for me to prove myself for Australia A in overseas conditions,” he said. “I am grateful to Cricket Australia and the national selection panel for this chance, and I will do my best to repay their faith in me.” The prospect of him playing for Australia has been lauded by Test great legspinner Shane Warne, who believes Ahmed can become an unlikely Ashes hero. “I wish him all the best and I really hope all the documentation goes through because I think he could be a real surprise element for Australia,” Warne told the BBC on Tuesday. “He’s got that surprise element and he doesn’t get flustered about anything. I think he could be very good for Australia.”
Offspinner Nathan Lyon is the only spin bowler in Australia’s 16-man Ashes squad, with the selectors leaving the door open for Ahmed and others to press claims.
However, national captain Michael Clarke denied before leaving for England that he would automatically leapfrog Lyon, who was dropped and then recalled during Australia’s 4-0 Test series loss in India in March.
Ahmed was handed a permanent visa to remain in Australia in November after leaving his home in the border region near Afghanistan, where he said he was targeted by Muslim extremists.
He played three Sheffield Shield games for Victoria late last season and took 16 wickets at 28.37, bringing him to the notice of Australian selectors. afp