PM's XI honours former refugee
Pakistani asylum-seeker Fawad Ahmedwill play for the Prime Minister's XI in Canberra. Photo: Wayne Taylor
Fawad Ahmed cannot decide what will mean more to him - being in Canberra to farewell Ricky Ponting's cricketing career, or personally thanking Prime Minister Julia Gillard for giving him the chance for his own.
Forced to flee his native Pakistan in 2010 following death threats from militant extremists, Ahmed said he felt like he had been granted a cricketing ''fairy tale'' when the asylum seeker was issued permanent Australian residency in November.
Ahmed has since played in the Big Bash League and has been named to make his Sheffield Shield debut for Victoria on Thursday, before arriving at Manuka Oval for the leg-spinner's most notable achievement yet - playing in the Prime Minister's XI against the West Indies next Tuesday.
Fawad Ahmed trains with the Australian team at the Gabba last year. Photo: Getty Images
The match will be a farewell for Ponting, but players will also be invited to a Prime Minister's function at The Lodge on the eve of the game.
''Everything is very exciting, to meet the Prime Minister, to play with Ricky Ponting and Brad Haddin, and especially playing in the Australian colours, is something great to me,'' he said.
Ahmed admitted he was scared and frustrated by the long process to gain residency in Australia, his application initially rejected before he sought ministerial intervention.
He acknowledges his ambition to live in and play cricket for Australia could prevent him from ever returning to his home in northern Pakistan. Ahmed claims he received death threats from religious extremists for playing and coaching cricket to children in the area because it ''promoted Western culture'', an issue that would be exacerbated now by the publicity his cricketing career has attracted.
''They know who I am, what I'm doing and it would have been really bad for me going back to there and taking a big risk,'' Ahmed said.
''That's a big threat going back because now I'm more popular than before, and those people can approach me easily … I didn't think about that, going home, especially now I'm just concentrating on my cricket.
''I want to settle down here, cricket is going good and I'm looking forward to the big picture. It's been a really hard time the last three years and suddenly things are happening now.
''There is no stress, my performance is 100 times better than before the decision. It's really good changes in my life … it's just like a fairy tale.
''I'm very thankful to Cricket Australia, Australia, Immigration Minister Chris Bowen, Prime Minister and to the whole nation of Australia.''
Cricket Australia has been criticised for staging a political stunt by selecting Ahmed for the Prime Minister's XI, which also includes Pakistan-born Usman Khawaja and Indian-born Gurinder Sandhu.
But Ahmed's selection for Victoria's Sheffield Shield team to play in South Australia on Thursday is further testament to the belief in his potential.
Ahmed, 30, was also called in by the Australian team to be a net bowler prior to the Brisbane Test against South Africa.
Ahmed said the selection of three players born outside of Australia in the Prime Minister's XI should be viewed positively.
''It's a good response to the whole world about how these Australians are and how they are treating the immigrants coming from other countries. There are opportunities for every single person,'' he said.
''Definitely playing for Australia is my ambition … that's what every single cricketer dreams about.
''It would be great to one day play for Australia in [the] Ashes against England. It's true cricket.''
Ahmed is a devout Muslim with a masters in international relations and political science.