Fawad Ahmed rushed into Australia A squad
The legspinner Fawad Ahmed appears likely to join Australia's Ashes campaign after being rushed into the Australia A squad for the remainder of its tour of England and Ireland. On Wednesday night, legislation was passed by the parliament's House of Representatives which cleared the way for Ahmed's Australian citizenship to be fast-tracked and although the bill must still be approved by the Senate, that appears to be a formality.
That should mean Ahmed can obtain an Australian passport well in advance of the first Ashes Test, which starts at Trent Bridge on July 10. The Australia A matches against Ireland from June 14 to 17 and Gloucestershire from June 21 to 23 now loom as a genuine Ashes audition for Ahmed, who will join the incumbent Test spinner Nathan Lyon and the promising young left-armer Ashton Agar as the slow bowlers in the Australia A outfit.
"It is a dream come true, after a long struggle and being through a really tough time," Ahmed said in Melbourne on Thursday. "I am very happy now and it is a great opportunity for me to prove myself at that level ... It's an opportunity for me to give something to this country because this nation has given me a lot. They loved me, give me an honour and give me respect. This is now the time that I can give back to them and serve my nation."
The selectors had originally planned to send Ahmed on the Australia A tour of South Africa in July but that was when they thought he would be ineligible for a national call-up until the final Ashes Test. The expected passing of the parliamentary bill, which eases the residency requirements for certain individuals in exceptional circumstances where their becoming a citizen could benefit Australia, has encouraged the selectors to give Ahmed some time in England ahead of the Ashes.
Under the ICC's player eligibility criteria, Ahmed would be unavailable for Australian selection until August 18 unless granted a passport before then. The criteria do not apply to A-teams. When Australia's selectors named their Ashes squad in April they chose 16 players and left one further space unfilled, which at the time was seen as an indication that Ahmed would come under consideration if he became eligible.
"We are pleased to be able to provide emerging cricketers with an opportunity to show their abilities," John Inverarity, the national selector, said. "Fawad is a spin bowler of interest and we look forward to seeing how he performs for Australia A."
Ahmed, 31, played ten first-class matches in Pakistan before fleeing to Australia in 2010 as an asylum seeker, saying his life had been threatened in Pakistan. Initially his claim was rejected but after Cricket Australia weighed in to support him, Ahmed was granted permanent residency last year and subsequently made his Melbourne Renegades debut in the Big Bash League and earned a call-up to the Victoria state side in February.
"It's just like a dream with open eyes, because I never expected something like this to happen after three and a half years," Ahmed said of progressing to Australia A selection. "There was a question on my life [in Pakistan], there were people raising their fingers on my life, so I was just surviving. I just came here for a better life, and I was just thinking to survive here and be like other people who came here as immigrants. This is something amazing, it is like a dream. Even I couldn't imagine this. This is something unbelievable for me."
In three Sheffield Shield matches towards the end of the summer, Ahmed collected 16 wickets at 28.37 and impressed his state captain Cameron White so much that White declared Ahmed "one of the better legspinners - if not the best - I've seen in first-class cricket outside [Stuart] MacGill and [Shane] Warne."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here