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Ahmed in Ashes contention after citizenship approval
The legspinner Fawad Ahmed's application for Australian citizenship has officially been approved, clearing the way for a possible call-up to the Test squad for the Ashes.
Ahmed described the confirmation from former federal immigration minister Brendan O'Connor as a "dream moment", and said he was now looking forward to giving something back to the country that had welcomed him after he fled from Pakistan in 2010.
In one of his final acts as immigration minister before losing the position in a cabinet reshuffle, O'Connor approved the application last week and an official citizenship ceremony is all that remains before Ahmed can obtain his passport. The announcement was made at the MCG on Tuesday and O'Connor said he had listened to a number of submissions, including those from Cricket Australia, on the character and virtues possessed by Ahmed.
"I was able to tell Fawad Ahmed today that his application for citizenship has been approved," O'Connor said. "It was approved late last week ... and it was approved because we were able to look at the application in a different light because of the changes to the Australian citizenship act that went through the parliament not long ago."
Those changes meant that some individuals could have their citizenship fast-tracked if it was considered they could be of benefit to Australia in a range of fields, including sport, science, medicine and the performing arts.
However, Ahmed's lack of wickets in two matches for Australia A in Belfast and Bristol last month mean that an Ashes call-up is no certainty, and he is instead concentrating on the upcoming Australia A tour of Zimbabwe and South Africa. Ahmed said he was grateful for the support he had received in his application for citizenship and he was pleased to be able to focus solely on cricket for the first time in many years.
"It's a long journey and it was a long struggle," Ahmed said on Tuesday. "The whole community of Australia - the people really supported me throughout this journey. It's a victory for our sport ... and for this country. I just can't wait to be a citizen. Especially in the field of cricket, I just want to give back something to this country.
"I have a great opportunity with Australia A in Zimbabwe and South Africa. I will try my best to perform well on those two tours and it depends on the selections. It will be an honour to represent Australia in the Ashes or maybe other tournaments. It's more relaxed now, I can feel there are no issues. Now I'm a citizen and can concentrate on my cricket and look forward to my bright future in cricket."
Whether that bright future includes this year's Ashes tour remains to be seen. The left-arm spinner Ashton Agar is likely to travel with the Ashes group in a development capacity, not as an official squad member, but his encouraging performances for Australia A could make him a more likely candidate for a call-up than Ahmed if the selectors decide they need a second spinner alongside Nathan Lyon.
Agar picked up six wickets at 16.50 on the Australia A tour of the British Isles and will play for the Australians in their tour match against Worcestershire starting on Tuesday. By comparison, Ahmed had a tougher time for Australia A and managed only two wickets at 82.50.
"The conditions were tough," Ahmed said. "It was freezing cold, it was nine degrees and the wind was pretty fast. I was bowling against the wind. But I should have bowled a bit better than that. I bowled a few really good balls as well and beat the bat, and I was unlucky a few times with dropped catches but that's a part of cricket."