Australia has a new cricketing hero; Australian immigration minister Brendan O'Connor. The Australian team needed help and Mr O'Connor has leapt to the rescue. He will not, sadly, be playing himself but he is responsible for a new law being rushed through the Australian parliament that will allow a Pakistani-born refugee called Fawad Ahmed to play for the Australian national team a month sooner than is currently the case.
Australia's cricket team recently arrived in England to compete in the Champions' Trophy; a One Day International tournament contested by the eight best teams in the world; India, South Africa, Australia, England, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, West Indies and New Zealand.
After the Champions' Trophy, the Australians will stay in England to play the England team in a series of five five-day test matches to decide the latest contest in one of the longest-lasting and most intense rivalries in world cricket; 'The Ashes'.
The Ashes of English cricketThe name The Ashes was coined in 1882 after Australia first beat England at cricket. An English sporting paper, The Sporting Times, published an obituary of English cricket saying that English cricket was dead. It said 'the body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia'. The English media dubbed the next tour to Australia later that year as 'the quest to regain the Ashes'. This summer the 67th Ashes series will be held in England. So far, Australia has won 31 series, England has won 30 and five have been drawn.
For many years, Australia was dominant in the Ashes. They won eight series in a row between 1989 and 2005. However, since then, they have won only one of the four series played. This summer, the bookmakers say that they are going to lose again.
The pundits say that England's test team is superior to the Australians in every area of the game. England has five batsmen ranked in the top 30 test players in the world while Australia has only one. England has four bowlers in the top twenty whereas Australia has only two.
Australians need a spinnerNowhere is the English superiority more pronounced than in the field of spin bowling. Graham Swann, England's top spin bowler is rated by the International Cricket Conference (ICC) as the 6th best bowler in the world. Australia's current best, Nathan Lyon, does not even make the top 50. In fact, he is rated number 560 in the world.
But thanks to Mr O'Connor, the Australians may have a saviour in the shape of Fawad. He is a refugee from Pakistan and a talented cricketer. He played ten first class matches in Pakistan and first visited Australia in 2010 on a short stay visa to play cricket. When he arrived, he immediately applied for asylum claiming that he had been threatened by fundamentalists after working with an NGO educating women near the border with Afghanistan.
His initial application for asylum was refused as groundless but, after strong lobbying from Cricket Australia, the then immigration minister overruled the initial decision.
Fawad only currently eligible for last test matchFawad has since applied for Australian citizenship and would, under normal circumstances, have become eligible to play for Australia on 18th August 2013. Unfortunately for the Australians, that would leave Fawad eligible to play only in the final match of the series, by when, if the bookmakers are right, Australia will have lost the series. The first test match of the Ashes series begins on 10th July 2013.
Now thanks to their new sporting hero, Brendan O'Connor, Fawad may be on the pitch for that game. Mr O'Connor has introduced a bill in the Australian parliament that will allow him to rush Australian citizenship applications through in certain circumstances.
Mr O'Connor has said that the circumstances he has in mind include 'international cricket competitions'. If the bill becomes law, Fawad's citizenship application could be rushed through by July 10th and allow him to play for Australia in the entire series.
Warne supports Fawad's inclusionThe move is controversial but has been approved by former Australian spin bowler Shane Warne who told the BBC that Fawad deserved to be in the Australian team.
If he is picked, Fawad will not be the only Pakistani-born player in the Australian squad; batsman Usman Khawaja first played for Australia in 2010. He emigrated with his parents from Pakistan to Australia when he was a child. That the Australian cricket team should include two Muslims from Pakistan illustrates the fact that international migration is changing the world.
Thanks to Mr O'Connor, that time will probably arrive forty days and four test matches sooner than expected.
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