Asylum-Seeker Ahmed Nears Ashes Call Up After Citizenship Boost

Pakistan-born spin bowler Fawad Ahmed will join Australia’s second-string cricket team on its U.K. and Ireland tour after lawmakers passed a bill that would fast-track his citizenship, putting him closer to an Ashes callup.

Although the bill still needs Senate approval, Cricket Australia said today it was confident there was enough support for it to soon become law, enabling leg-spinner Ahmed, 31, to obtain an Australian passport in time to be picked for the best-of-five Test series against England starting July 10.

Ahmed, who played first-class cricket in Pakistan before fleeing to Australia in 2010 and being granted asylum, will now get the chance to impress selectors in two Australia ‘A’ tour matches this month. Nathan Lyon is the only specialist spin bowler in Australia’s 16-man Ashes squad as it seeks to avoid a third straight series loss to archrival England.

“We are pleased to be able to provide emerging cricketers with an opportunity to show their abilities,” John Inverarity, chairman of Australia’s national selection panel, said in a statement. “Fawad is a spin bowler of interest and we look forward to seeing how he performs for Australia ‘A’.”

Under the sport’s current international eligibility criteria, Ahmed would not become available for Australia selection until Aug. 18, Cricket Australia said.

The bill to amend Australia’s Citizenship Act passed through the lower house of parliament yesterday. If it passes the Senate, the legislation will give the immigration minister the power to fast-track citizenship applications in specific cases such as elite athletes.

If Ahmed obtains citizenship and a passport before Aug. 18, he will immediately be eligible to play for Australian elite teams, Melbourne-based Cricket Australia said. Because the regulations don’t apply to ‘A’ teams, Ahmed will be available for selection in the tour matches against Ireland and Gloucestershire.

‘Great Opportunity’

“It is a great opportunity for me to prove myself in overseas conditions,” Ahmed said in the statement. “I am grateful to Cricket Australia and the national selection panel for this chance. I will do my best to repay their faith in me.”

Ahmed was granted a permanent visa to remain in Australia in November after his initial application for residency was rejected. He has said he left his home in the border region near Afghanistan because he was targeted by Muslim extremists.

He played in Australia’s 2012-13 Big Bash Twenty20 competition before taking 16 wickets at an average of 28 runs apiece in three first-class Sheffield Shield matches for the Victoria state team.

His performances prompted Victoria captain Cameron White to describe him as “one of the better leg-spinner, if not the best” he’d seen outside Stuart MacGill and Shane Warne.

MacGill took 208 wickets in 44 Tests for Australia before retiring in 2008, while Warne quit international cricket a year earlier with a national-record 708 Test wickets.

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