Pakistani refugee Fawad Ahmed has been added to the Australia A squad for a tour of Britain and Ireland after changes to citizenship laws which could fast-track his passport passed through the lower house of the Australian Parliament.
Cricket Australia's national selection panel chairman John Inverarity said in a statement Thursday that "Fawad is a spin bowler of interest and we look forward to seeing how he performs for Australia A."
There's been mounting speculation locally that Australia, in need of a consistent, quality legbreak bowler since the retirements of Shane Warne and Stuart MacGill, could add the 31-year-old Ahmed to its Ashes squad for the test series in England beginning in July. Offspinner Nathan Lyon was the only slow bowler selected in the initial Ashes squad.
"It's amazing news for me," Ahmed was quoted as saying Thursday by the Australian Associated Press. "It's a great opportunity for me now to prove myself."
Immigration Minister Brendan O'Connor last month introduced proposed changes to the Citizenship Act that would give him discretion to grant citizenship in exceptional cases to residents who have not lived in Australia for the four-year minimum but are "engaged in a kind of work of benefit to Australia."
On Wednesday, the bill passed through Australia's House of Representatives in Canberra without amendment, and without the need for a vote.
While the bill still needs to progress through the Senate, Cricket Australia said it was confident that there is enough support for the changes to become law.
Ahmed played 10 first-class matches in Pakistan before arriving in Australia in 2010 seeking asylum.
He was granted permanent residency last year and would normally have qualified for Australia in August under International Cricket Council guidelines.
Citizenship offers an earlier option for selection under ICC rules.
In April, Ahmed took a step closer to being considered for an Australian team after being awarded a full-time contract with Victoria state, snaring 16 wickets in three Sheffield Shield matches.
He had already spent time training with the Australian squad in nets sessions.
"I've been through a really tough time," he said. "Wars in Pakistan and fled in 2010, camp here, struggled to survive but never give up, working hard and happy to be in a great place.
"It's time to enjoy and this is the start of a new journey now. "
Ahmed said he was targeted by extremists and his life was in danger before he moved to Australia.
"I just came here for a better life," he said. "I was thinking to just survive here and to be like other people who came as an immigrant, but this is something amazing. I couldn't imagine this."
"This nation has given me a lot. They have given me honor and respect."
Cricket Australia said if the bill to amend the Citizenship Act becomes law and Ahmed obtains Australian citizenship and an Australian passport before Aug. 18, he will become immediately eligible for national selection at that time.
It said the ICC's player eligibility criteria does not apply to selection for second-string or national development squads, so Ahmed is able to immediately join the Australia A tour.
Ahmed will be available for selection in the Australia A tour matches against Ireland from June 14-17 and against England county Gloucestershire from June 21-23. Australia A opens its tour on Friday with a four-day match against Scotland.