Spinning out of the Rough!
FAWAD Ahmed regards himself as a good Muslim, and the Victorian batsmen who have faced his leg-spin in the MCG nets can attest that he is a very good cricketer.
But in the northern Pakistani province of Khyber Pukhtunkhwa, where Ahmed lived until he was sponsored by a cricket club to come to Australia two years ago, he says he was persecuted by religious extremists for playing and coaching the sport he loves.
''I got death threats from them,'' he says. ''They say I am promoting a Western culture and bringing kids out of their homes for recreational activity and if you continue this it might be really difficult for you.
''I quit coaching, but I got [picked] for [first-class] cricket and the matches were all around Pakistan. When I started performing, they said, 'You are still involved with cricket and promoting Western culture. If you come back to home, or wherever you are, we will find you.' I am happy that I am a good Muslim. I am doing nothing contrary to Islam.
''I am playing here the last two years and I am still praying and I never drank alcohol. There is nothing contradictory with Islam and playing cricket.''
Ahmed, 30, is seeking asylum in Australia, awaiting a decision on his claim for protection. For the moment, he has a bridging visa and will represent Melbourne University Cricket Club in Premier cricket next summer, having last season broken a Victorian Turf Cricket Association record with 58 wickets at an average of 11 for Hoppers Crossing, including eight five-wicket hauls.
There is more riding on his asylum claim than the promise of a safe life in Melbourne.
Simon Helmot, coach of Melbourne Renegades in the Big Bash League and of Victoria's one-day team, has often enlisted Ahmed as a net bowler. While the two overseas spots at each BBL team will go to stars such as Chris Gayle and Shahid Afridi, Helmot said that if Ahmed could be picked as a local, he would be considered. He has also attracted interest from Perth
''Our batsmen found him a real challenge,'' Helmot said.
For Ahmed, that is ''the dream''. For now, he will be Melbourne Uni's playing assistant coach, while also coaching the club's women's team. This week, his new teammates listened, captivated, at a fund-raising dinner as he told them about his background, a story far removed from the experience of Australian club cricketers.
Ahmed lived in Swabi, a city of about 1 million people in KP province, near the Afghanistan border. He graduated from Peshawar University with a master's degree in international relations and political science but by then had been inspired to bowl leg spin.
''Thanks to God and thanks to Australia they have produced such a legend in Shane Warne,'' he said. ''[There was] one ground for 1 million people and it's a one-hour drive from my home. So mostly I am bowling to the wall. At that time there was no internet but I was always watching Shane Warne on the TV, in the World Cup or some of the tournaments. I tried to copy his approach.'' He played 10 first-class games in Pakistan and gave up the chance to represent his country when he came to Australia, where he has found the bouncier pitches to his liking.
Friends hooked him up with Hoppers Crossing and Ahmed set aside the stresses of his unresolved asylum claim to dominate the competition.
''Fawad was tremendous for us,'' said Hoppers Crossing president Steve McNamara.
''Guys who tried to see him off didn't last long. He has been through some terrible hardships but it never seemed to affect how he was. I really hope one day he does well enough to play at the next level again because he's a wonderful person.''
Ahmed's teammates welcomed him, asked questions about his religion and visited his house for Pakistani feasts. ''I give them respect and they give me respect,'' he said. Still, he could not escape the realities of the place he had left behind.
Checking scorecards on the internet one night, he noticed his friend, Nauman Habib, had taken seven wickets in a domestic game in Peshawar.
The next night, he read that Habib had disappeared, and a few days later that his mutilated body had been found. ''Still nobody knows who killed him.''
His heart breaks, too, for Pakistan cricket and for the national team, rendered homeless when terrorists attacked the Sri Lankan team in 2009. In August, Pakistan will host Australia for a limited-overs series in Dubai, even though the extreme heat makes it impossible to start matches before 6pm.
''International teams are not coming to Pakistan, so how can people see their heroes?''
In Melbourne, Ahmed makes a modest living and he is planning a big first season in Premier cricket. ''It was really hard for me to leave my country, my home, my relatives, my friends, my cricket, but I am enjoying myself here,'' he says. ''I am here, thousands of miles away from home, just to be safe and play cricket.''
Your thoughts? Seems like a Zulqairnain Haider type story to be honest. Just wants to get an easy life and live off benefits like desis do in the UK
Voltaire's last words- Now is no time to be making enemies!