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England could face new Ashes spin threat
Fawad Ahmed moved one step closer to an Ashes call-up on Thursday when a bill was introduced to federal parliament that could alter Australia's citizenship laws. Under the current system, Ahmed is unable to obtain an Australian passport until August, shortly before the final Ashes Test, but if passed, the bill introduced by immigration and citizenship minister, Brendan O'Connor, would allow a fast-tracking of that passport.
O'Connor did not refer to Ahmed by name in parliament on Thursday but he mentioned cricket as a sport that would be covered by the Australian Citizenship Amendment (special residence requirements) bill 2013. The changes would allow the minister to fast-track the citizenship claims of people whose work benefits Australia but who do not meet the existing residency requirements, and sportspeople would fall into that category.
"The new instrument will include international cricket competitions as a specified activity and adds Cricket Australia to the list of organisations that may support an application," O'Connor said. "The proposed amendments will give the minister the discretion to provide a pathway to citizenship for a very small number of people in very exceptional circumstances where their becoming a citizen would be of benefit to Australia. Australia should be proud to call these people their own."
However, the move is far from a guarantee of Ahmed's Ashes eligibility, because there are only 13 sitting days of parliament remaining in the current session and a significant backlog of legislation waiting to be passed. The bill is expected to be debated next week. But it does give Cricket Australia hope that Ahmed could play a part in the early stages of their Ashes campaign after they left one place vacant when naming the 16-man squad last month.
"Those of us who have seen him bowl have been very impressed with him," national selector John Inverarity said when naming the squad. "He's a very good legspinner and yes he does remain in contention. We've selected 16 players and we state now that should the need arise we will add to the squad. We don't know when he's going to become eligible, but there's always that possibility."
Ahmed, 31, played ten first-class matches in Pakistan before moving to Australia in 2010 as an asylum seeker. He impressed in his first few matches with Victoria last summer, collecting 16 Sheffield Shield wickets in three games, and was highly praised by current and former players including Stuart MacGill. If he does join the Ashes squad he will increase the pressure on Nathan Lyon, the incumbent Test spinner and only specialist slow bowler in the group.
"I think Nathan is well and truly aware of that," captain Michael Clarke said this week. "He knows where he sits in the team. There is a lot of water under the bridge before we have to worry about the first Test match."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here