Pakistan-born leg spinner Fawad Ahmed will be eligible to play for Australia in the forthcoming Ashes series, courtesy of minor changes to Australia’s citizenship legislation.
It is clear that he is very much in the thoughts of John Inverarity, the chairman of selectors who, in naming Australia’s 16-man squad, declined to name an alternate to spinner Nathan Lyon, aged 25.
That leaves the door wide open for Ahmed, with 30 wickets at an average of 32, to become the 12th spinner to play for Australia since the retirement of Shane Warne in early 2007. That’s a whole cricket eleven of spinners, all tried, and all, except for Lyon, unceremoniously discarded.
Jason Krejza, Michael Beer, Bryce McGain, Cameron White, Xavier Doherty, Steve Smith, Beau Casson, Dan Cullen, Nathan Hauritz and veterans Brad Hogg and Stuart MacGill have all been tried and binned.
McGain, Casson and Cullen were one-cap wonders. Krejza and Hauritz both seemed to have done reasonable jobs before the selectors settled on the unknown off-spinner Lyon. With 76 wickets at an average of 33, he has done a decent job, but it’s not enough for the selectors, who are hell-bent on finding another Warne.
That Cricket Australia’s CEO James Sutherland lobbied Canberra to get Ahmed’s citizenship approved in time for the Ashes is a sad indictment on the state of Australian cricket. It provoked Anthony Lown, a leg spinner for Sydney University in the Sydney grade competition, and a cricket coach, to launch a savage attack on the Australian selectors.
“I don’t agree with the effort that they’re going to to get him into the Australian team,” Lown said.
“I think it undermines Nathan Lyon. What’s the poor bloke thinking when the Government has to get involved? His confidence will be shot and it shows the selectors don’t know who their best XI is. They obviously don’t know who their best spinner is [because their action is] full of contradictions.
“They don’t want to pick someone who’s older because they’re looking at youth. They picked Lyon, who’s young and has started his career well. Now they keep undermining him; he had one bad game in India and got dropped.”
It is a valid point. Lyon was plucked from obscurity in 2011 to make his Test debut after just four first-class matches. In his first Test against Sri Lanka, he took an outstanding 5/34 in the first innings. Although he has at times struggled, he is still learning and honing his craft.
To pick the 31-year-old Ahmed now would serve only to set back Lyon’s development and hinder the pathway to the Test team for other promising prospects.
Ricky Ponting is a reminder of the gulf that now exists between domestic and international cricket in Australia. Finished at international level, Ponting plundered easy runs when he went back to play for Tasmania.
The only way to ascertain if outstanding domestic performers can cut it at international level is to play them. By rushing Ahmed to the top of the queue, they are bypassing the state system and going for the untried option, when they know perfectly well that Lyon can do a decent job.
“Clearly they don’t believe he’s the best spinner,” Lown said.
“The selectors obviously don’t know what they’re doing. … there’s a problem with the spin stocks in Australia and it comes from a more systemic problem whereby captains don’t know how to captain spinners, which is holding back their development. It’s disgraceful.”
The great Warne, himself never short of a word, would seem to sympathise, telling BBC Radio 5 Live this week that “By picking all those openers, it seems [the selectors] don’t know the right mix.” – Matthew Connellan
Top photo: Top selector John Inverarity announces the Ashes squad, watched by captain Michael Clarke. Image from Cricket Australia’s website.