The fast-tracking of Ahmed is a concern

Date: June 8, 2013 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

Pakistan-born leg-spinner Fawad Ahmed’s qualification to represent Australia has been a mini version of that which surrounded Zimbabwean-born Graeme Hick’s qualification to represent his adopted England in 1991.

Hick, of course, had a far more imposing first-class record than Ahmed’s by the time he debuted.

And, unlike Ahmed’s situation, there was a finite countdown to Hick’s international debut.

He was required to serve a seven-year residency requirement before he would be eligible to step out for his adopted nation.

History indicates that whilst he was a lion at county level he was somewhat of a lamb in international ranks, averaging 31.3 from 65 Tests – that against a first-class average of 52.2 with 136 centuries.

Ahmed when, and if, selected will not carry the weight of expectation on his shoulders that Hick had to carry onto the international stage.

Ahmed is a step closer to wearing the baggy green in the forthcoming Ashes series following Federal parliament passing an amended Citizenship Act that, as soon as passed into law, will fast-track his citizenship and passport.

As things currently stand he cannot debut prior to 18 August, ruling him out of the first four Ashes Tests.

It is a meteoric rise to the cusp of representing his adopted country.

He sort political asylum from his home in Abbottabad on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border – the city in which US troops killed Osama bin Laden.

He arrived in Australia, at the age of 28, in 2010 having played ten first-class matches in Pakistan for a modest return.

He made his first-class debut for the Victoria Bushrangers in March and a month later signed a three-year deal with the team.

In his three Sheffield Shield matches late in the summer he claimed 16 wickets at 28.4.

Former Test leggie Stuart MacGill is a big fan, as is Damien Martyn who declared that he is the best spinner in Australia since Shane Warne after having a net against him.

The thought of attempting to expedite a foreign-born player’s status to represent Australia was considered anathema prior to the Ahmed case.

The fact that Cricket Australia has moved heaven and earth to entice parliament to amend a national law emphasises the country’s current dearth of both international quality spinners and its recent lacklustre performances at international level.

It begs the question as to just what happened to all those youngsters we were told were attempting to emulate Warne by bowling leg-spin during the blonde tweaker’s record-breaking career?

For whatever reason they collectively failed to make an impression – 21-year-old New South Welshman Adam Zampa may eventually prove the exception.

Nobody would have seriously considered that Australia would unearth another Warne after his international retirement in early-2007.

But, for a country that has an immensely proud history of leg-spin bowlers, the fact that the cupboard is so bare at present is a major concern.

Traditionally, off-spinners on Australian pitches – whether they be local products or tourists – have struggled to have a significant impact at Test level.

Muttiah Muralitharan and Harbhajan Singh, as good as they were, both averaged over 70 runs per wicket on Australian pitches.

Off-spinner Nathan Lyon is the incumbent Test spinner and while he has been solid at times he has also shown an inability to ‘get the job done’ in the fourth innings in several Tests.

MacGill has been recently announced as a specialist coach and mentor for Australia’s young leg-spinners.

He needs to make an impact.

There has long been a concern among the cricket fraternity that many multi-talented athletes in this country have chosen the football codes ahead of the traditional summer sport – the reason being a far larger number of opportunities and often a greater prospect of a larger salary.

The recent television deal signed between CA and the Nine and Ten networks will go a long way to changing the perspective in respect to potential income.

Test and ODI skipper Michael Clarke is projected to earn $6 million per year with around $2m of that coming from his CA – making him the highest paid home-based sportsman.

A further dozen players are expected to earn over $1 million while the top State-based contract will now be just shy of $250,000.

CA will be hoping that such numbers entice young gifted sportsmen to lean towards cricket as their professional sporting career path.

And then let’s hope that some of them are budding leg-spinners who live up to their early expectations.

Otherwise, we may have to lay-off the likes of England who has shown a propensity to bolster its stocks with foreign-born players.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 7 June 2013