x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Cricketer Fawad Ahmed is already feeling right at home in Australia

Pakistani-born Ahmed is already receiving a warm welcome but not wearing the kit because of religious reasons is not the real issue, writes Osman Samiuddin.

Until Fawad Ahmed starts to take a lot of wickets, his story is likely to centre around his Pakistan roots. Gareth Copley / Getty Images
Until Fawad Ahmed starts to take a lot of wickets, his story is likely to centre around his Pakistan roots. Gareth Copley / Getty Images

Fawad Ahmed is going to be doomed for a while.

Doomed because, unless he does something special on the field, he will continue to be referred to as Fawad Ahmed, the Pakistani asylum seeker turned Australian cricketer – for whom the Australian government hurried through legislation so that he could play and Australia could have a shot at winning the Ashes – and not just Fawad Ahmed, the Australian leg-spinner.

He probably will not mind being known simply as Fawad Ahmed.

If he wins the Ashes or becomes what Cricket Australia (CA) dearly want him to become – the next you-know-who – he probably stands a fair chance.

In any case it is unlikely to worry him too much. He has had to worry about far graver matters and every day apart from his family, still back in Pakistan, is presumably worry enough.

But in case he had forgotten, he was reminded of this new challenge ahead of him a few days ago by David Campese, the Australian rugby union legend.

Ahmed was asked by CA if he was all right with wearing the Australian team kit with a sponsor's logo for a brewery on it.

Note that he did not make this request; in fact, it would have been interesting to see what he would have done if he had had no choice.

In the event, Ahmed said he would prefer not to; CA was fine with it, as were the sponsors.

Doug Walters, that wonderful former batsman and a comic-book embodiment of the Australian cricketer, was the first to express his disapproval, suggesting that if Ahmed did not want to wear the team kit, he should not be part of the team.

But it was Campese who threw a match on this fuel, telling Ahmed on Twitter: "if you don't like the VB uniform, don't play for Australia. Well said Doug. Tell him to go home."

I do not know whether Campese's views have much currency in Australia, but they are further proof at least of his idiocy, as CA commendably pointed out soon after they were made.

Campese has history; just last winter he questioned why a female reporter was covering rugby for an Australian newspaper.

The thing is, his comments take away from wider, probably more sensible debates around the issue of Ahmed.

Choosing not to wear a sponsored shirt on the grounds of religious belief is a personal choice afforded to an employee by the employer: it is not the issue Campese wants it to be.

In a way, the fact that Usman Khawaja was given a similar choice and was fine with wearing the sponsor's logo only strengthens this point.

The broader issue, of whether Ahmed's citizenship application should have been fast-tracked – and the matter of asylum-seekers in general – is, in the context of Australian politics, probably the one requiring a more nuanced appraisal.

It may not get it, given that Australia has just voted in Tony Abbott as their new prime minister, whose not so nuanced approach to handling refugees is to "stop the boats".

But Ahmed's swift rise to the Australia side has another point to it, one of a maybe deeper significance within cricket and, in fact, other international team sports.

It raises the question of how much, and what, playing for a country, any country, means in the modern day.

It has long been presumed and propagated that playing for a country confers a kind of honour on a player, an honour that has driven that individual to get to where they are and will drive them to serve the country as best they can.

But this is an unquantifiable idea, which has maybe been given greater significance than it should.

Athletes are individuals first, no matter what the sport, and they are driven firstly and mostly by a need to excel - individually.

Does not the pride and honour of individual achievement naturally supersede that of representing a country? That is, it must feel great to be acknowledged as one of the top individual athletes in the country, more so than the feeling of pride that comes with representing your country.

In other words, the identity of the country an athlete represents – or any attachment to it – may not be as important to the athlete as the desire to be among the best at whatever discipline the athlete has chosen and be recognised as such by being selected to represent their country.

That is why Ahmed's case is different but also similar to, say, that of Kevin Pietersen, who moved to another country to further his chances of, ultimately, furthering his own career and in the process, became an international player.

There is nothing wrong with that; it just places notions of individual progress and excellence above collective pride (and not as a substitute). Unlike football, international competition is still where it is at for cricket.

But it is changing and though he probably just wants to be as good a leg-spinner as he can be, Ahmed will, perhaps always, come to represent much more.

osamiuddin@thenational.ae

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