Fawad Ahmed: Australia's (latest) new Shane Warne?

Pakistani leg-spinner, who's close to citizenship, is content Down Under, he tells Richard Edwards. And there is even talk of a late run at the Ashes

Australian cricket fans could do with some good news after the three weeks they've endured. Three-nil down in their four-match series in India – which resumed this morning with the final Test – and riven by fights over those who have or have not done their homework, the Baggy Green is looking decidedly jaded.

But help may just be at hand in the shape of a new leg-spinner, Pakistani Fawad Ahmed, who is catching the eye as well as taking wickets Down Under, and is being fast-tracked for citizenship under the country's elite sportsman programme.

While Shane Warne gave notice of his arrival on the international stage by delivering "the ball of the century" to a baffled Mike Gatting at Old Trafford in 1993, Fawad announced his in rather more humble surroundings. In November, he was working in a warehouse and waiting anxiously for the outcome of his application to be granted asylum in Australia.

Michael Clarke's side, meanwhile, were desperately looking for a bowler who could help them prepare for the challenge posed by South Africa's Pakistan-born leg-spinner Imran Tahir in their forthcoming Test series.

One Brisbane net session later and Fawad's future had been turned on its head. "They called me up for an Australian camp and everything has just gone from there," he says. "I got out most of the batsmen over the course of three or four days – but Michael Clarke and Ricky Ponting were incredible."

So successful was Fawad's impromptu trial that Tahir recorded the worst figures in Test cricket history in his only match of South Africa's series against Australia and his doppelganger suddenly found himself in demand. Had Australia, who have tried 11 spinners in their Test team since Warne, found the great man's successor?

By the time December rolled around, Fawad had signed a Big Bash contract with the Melbourne Renegades and the Aussies were pondering a most unlikely addition to their Ashes tour party. All of which represents a remarkable reversal of fortunes for a man whose asylum claim had been rejected by the Australian government back in August – a decision which was ultimately over-turned after a direct appeal to the Federal Immigration Minister.

"We were advised very clearly that despite this being the best avenue, it was also the only avenue available to us and the likelihood of success was virtually nil," says Derek Bennett, the president of Fawad's Melbourne University Cricket Club.

The setback could have signalled the end of Fawad's cricket career but instead it provided the impetus that has propelled him from the warehouse floor to the shop window and after winning his case, he hasn't looked back.

"Back in 2009 I was working as a coach and as a player and also working for a women's development organisation on the border of Afghanistan," he says. "That was enough for me to get death threats from the Taliban.

"I ended up having to leave my country and head to Australia. Now I'm in my fourth cricketing season, I've been so lucky to end up here."

Abandoning his homeland and his family – Fawad's mother, brother and two sisters still live in the troubled Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province – was a far from easy decision but despite the hardships he has quickly emerged as a potential saviour for an Australian side still desperately struggling to fill the hole left by Warne's retirement in 2007.

Not that this was ever on the minds of those who were instrumental in ensuring that Fawad could remain in Australia. "The prospect of Fawad playing for Australia was never on anyone's radar," says Bennett. "This was never an exercise in trying to find the next Shane Warne. This was a collective effort by the cricket community to help one of our own who had been persecuted because he was a cricketer."

Before his Sheffield Shield bow for Victoria last month, the 31-year-old had played just 10 first-class matches, the most recent of which was in 2009 for Abbottabad – the city which housed Osama Bin Laden until his death in May 2011.

Queensland were on the wrong end of Fawad's magic on his return to first-class action as he recorded the best figures by a spinner on debut since the 1971-72 season as he took 7 for 162, a performance that left Bulls' captain James Hopes in no doubt that he can replicate his form on the biggest stage of all if he's given the chance.

"He's a match-winner," said Hopes. "He's got great control and he's got a good wrong 'un. He would hold his own at the top level, comfortably."

But although Fawad may soon be wearing the Baggy Green, he's never forgotten his roots. "I still love my country and I would still love to play for Pakistan but these things have happened," he says. "I still miss my country, family, friends and Pakistan domestic cricket but I'm happy and comfortable here in Australia. I'm looking forward, now I have a new life and this is a new era.

"There is so much talent in that region and although people are still playing cricket, the issues which forced me to leave are still very much there. The terrorists are targeting the people that are trying to make a difference but hopefully peace is not far away. I hope that one day the schools will flourish again and that the country can recover. For me, the time [before he arrived in Australia] was the toughest. Now I'm pretty sure that the bad times have gone and the good times are here."

After the spell they've had, Australia must hope that the emergence of Fawad means that brighter days are ahead for them, too.

Still looking: Aussie spinners since Warne

Stuart McGill

42, right-arm spinner legbreak googly

Tests 44 Wickets 208

Brad Hogg

42, left-arm chinaman

Tests 7 Wickets 17

Beau Casson

30, left-arm chinaman

Tests 1 Wickets 3

Cameron White

29, right-arm legbreak googly

Tests 4 Wickets 5

Jason Krejza

30, right-arm offbreak

Tests 2 Wickets 13

Nathan Hauritz

31, right-arm offbreak

Tests 17 Wickets 63

Bryce McGain

40, right-arm legbreak googly

Tests 1 Wickets 0

Xavier Doherty

30, left-arm orthodox

Tests 4 Wickets 7

Nathan Lyon

25, right-arm offbreak

Tests 21 Wickets 67

Glenn Maxwell

24, right-arm offbreak

Tests 1 Wickets 4

Michael Beer

28, left-arm orthodox

Tests 2 Wickets 3

Starc sure he will be fit for the Ashes

Australian paceman Mitchell Starc is confident he will be fit for this summer's Ashes in England after undergoing ankle surgery. Starc flew home from the tour of India following the third Test defeat, after deciding to push forward an operation.

The left-armer said he felt he could have coped without the procedure and bowl in the five-Test series beginning in July, but took the opportunity of Australia's early series defeat to confront the issue.

And, while conceding the problem had "got worse" and admitting he had required an injection to play in Mohali, Starc said he was in no doubt he would be available for the showpiece series against the old enemy. "From the timeline that we've spoken about, as long as there are no complications, then there's no reason why I wouldn't be 100 per cent for the Ashes," he said.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?