Melbourne: On March 25, 1992, a 10-year-old watches his country's cricketing superstars on TV as Pakistan clinch the World Cup at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Around two decades later, the very venue becomes his home ground as he represents Victoria in the prestigious Sheffield Shield after seeking asylum in Australia in 2010 following death threats back home.
Indeed, leg-spinner Fawad Ahmed's story is a fascinating one. Ahmed, who lives in the Williamstown suburb of west Melbourne, played three ODIs and two T20Is for Australia before form deserted him two years ago. Currently, however, he's on a roll, having emerged as the leading wicket-taker (41 wickets) as Victoria stormed into the final of the Sheffield Shield where they take on Western Australia in Hobart from Saturday.
In an interview with mid-day, Ahmed (33), who has excelled for Victoria at the MCG, reveals why he feels Indian spinners will also do well at this venue where they play Bangladesh in the quarter-final here tomorrow.
On the role of spin in the World Cup:
Normally, in Australian conditions, spin does not play a very important role. The conditions here support pace and bounce. However, at this World Cup we have seen that good spinners like Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Imran Tahir and Daniel Vettori can succeed if they bowl smartly. This World Cup has favoured spinners quite a bit.
Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin
On spin conditions at the Melbourne Cricket Ground:
The MCG wicket does support spinners, but only if you bowl first. I have bowled a lot here and I have always done well if I'm bowling first. The MCG strip is a drop-in one, so there is no question of it deteriorating or breaking up. It only gets flatter and flatter as a match proceeds, so spinners will find it difficult to extract turn later on. But India have nothing to worry as far as their spin department is concerned. Ashwin and Jadeja are very intelligent bowlers.
The idea is to attack early which means if there are less runs on the board or a couple of early wickets have fallen, then the spinner should bowl with full flight and loop, luring the batsman to play big shots and hope he makes an error as the MCG is a big ground. But if there a lot of runs on the board, a spinner can't do much apart from bowling flatter and quicker. With wickets getting flatter, thicker bats and the nature of the Kookaburra ball that just flies, spinners nowadays have to be good thinkers more than anything else. And fortunately for India, Ashwin and Jadeja are very good at this.
On his World Cup favourites:
India and Australia are the two hot favourites for sure. New Zealand are also looking good and Pakistan on their day can beat anyone. The way they beat South Africa so easily (by 29 runs) was amazing. Australia are under a lot of pressure as they are the hosts, but India are playing great cricket. India's batting and spin bowling have always been good, but the way their pacers Umesh Yadav, Mohammad Shami and Mohit Sharma are bowling consistently in the 140 kmph region, is very impressive. Pakistan are also riding on their pacers like Wahab Riaz and so are Australia with Mitchell Starc and Mitchell Johnson.
On his form and a possible Australia recall:
I've not been able to watch a lot of the World Cup because I've been continuously playing Shield cricket. In fact, we would have loved for our final to be at the MCG, but due to the World Cup that was not possible. Thanks to the Almighty, I'm doing well and getting a lot of wickets. I think I'm in fine form at the moment and every Shield player dreams of playing for the country, so if the national call comes, I will be honoured to play for Australia again. Otherwise, I'm happy playing Shield cricket. It's my job and I love it.
On life in Australia:
I had to come here because I received death threats back home due to my association with an NGO (which promoted women rights). I feel this has been the best decision of my life. Australia is absolutely amazing. Pakistanis love their sport. At one stage, we were holding three World Cups — hockey, squash and cricket. And Melbourne is the sporting capital of the world, so I love it here even though I live here alone.
On missing his family:
I was born and brought up in Swabi district (in Pakistan), where we have a joint family system. Obviously, I miss my family a lot. I miss my mother in particular, my father passed away. I have not been able to go home since I came here in 2010, as I have been very busy with my cricket. I can't wait to meet my mother, but I have to honour my cricket commitments here too.
The number of wickets taken by spinners R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja in 6 matches at an economy rate of 4.92