Leg-spinner makes an impression in spite of loss to England.
Australia Twenty20 captain George Bailey believes Fawad Ahmed will become a match-winner for his adopted country after he took his first full international wickets on Saturday.
Leg-spinner Ahmed’s return of three wickets for 25 runs from his maximum four overs couldn’t prevent Australia losing the second Twenty20 international at Chester-le-Street by 27 runs as England levelled the two-match series at 1-1, but it may yet have more enduring significance than the raw result.
It was Ahmed who ended England’s opening partnership of 111 when he induced Michael Lumb to top-edge a sweep to wicketkeeper Matthew Wade, a wicket the bowler greeted with a kiss to the skies.
And having been entrusted with the 20th and final over by Bailey, Ahmed responded by dismissing both Eoin Morgan and Jos Buttler — bowled first ball — as England finished on 195 for five.
Ahmed’s return was timely after he took none for 43 on debut during Australia’s 39-run win in the first Twenty20 at Southampton on Thursday.
“It meant a lot to him and would have meant a lot to all the people who have supported him,” Bailey told reporters on Saturday.
“It was fantastic for him. We saw he has good control and good skills. He is someone who can have a lot of success.
“He’ll be thrilled. No matter what your age is when you come into international cricket you want to know if you are good enough and where you stand. To improve from game one into game two he’ll be really happy.
“To Fawad’s credit he handled that pressure really well. It’s good to know for the future. I think that showed he has a good knowledge of his own game and self-belief.”
The 31-year-old Ahmed fled his native Pakistan in 2010 fearing political persecution and arrived in Australia as an asylum seeker.
Having played first-class matches in Pakistan, he began his cricket career in Australia with the Melbourne University club.
After bowling to Australia’s Test players in the nets in 2012, Ahmed was signed by the Melbourne Renegades in Australia’s Twenty20 Big Bash League before playing three Sheffield Shield matches for Victoria, where he took 16 wickets at 28.37 and impressed the likes of Australian leg-spin great Shane Warne.
In July, Ahmed became an Australian citizen after government-sponsored changes to legislation helped fast-track his application.
July also saw Ahmed play for Australia A on their tour of South Africa and Zimbabwe, after he was added to the national reserve side’s squad for their tour of Britain and Ireland in June.
Bailey said he’d been struck by Ahmed’s enthusiasm for cricket, as exemplified by his approach to batting at No 11 and being out in the middle when Australia needed 34 to win off the last over.
“Knowing Fawad he would have been disappointed he didn’t get us over the line with the bat,” Bailey said after both Ahmed and Mitchell Johnson finished on three not out in Australia’s total of 168 for nine.
“I didn’t think he thought 34 off the last over was out of his reach.”
But above all, it’s Ahmed’s bowling that has impressed Bailey.
“He will be a match-winner for us. I thought he mixed his pace up well today (Saturday). I think he just responds really well.
“He’s a student of the game — he loves it.”
Ahmed’s rapid rise in Australian cricket has seen him become something of a standard-bearer for players from the country’s immigrant communities.
But Bailey said it was important Ahmed wasn’t swayed by outside influences.
“If he’s half-sensible, he won’t listen to anyone else’s expectations. He’s pretty passionate and has good self-belief.
“Much like everyone else, I’m enjoying getting to know him. He’s a good player to have in your team.”