Pakistani refugee Fawad Ahmed called up to Australia A squad before Ashes
Former Pakistani asylum-seeker Fawad Ahmed 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 Thursday.
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 Ahmed's 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 that if the bill should 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).
"It's amazing news for me," he told reporters in Melbourne.
"I am very happy. It is a great opportunity for me to prove myself for Australia A in overseas conditions."
Ahmed said his journey to Australia had been all about survival.
"I've been through a really tough time," he said.
"Wars in Pakistan and fled in 2010, (refugee) camp here, struggled to survive but never gave up, worked hard and happy to be in a great place.
"This nation has given me a lot. They have given me honour and respect," he added.
The prospect of him playing for Australia has been lauded by Test great leg-spinner 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."
Off-spinner 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, who has been coached by former Test spinner Stuart MacGill at the Centre of Excellence in Brisbane, said he also hoped to have a coaching session in England with Warne.
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.