Swabi: Fawad Ahmed's cricketing journey began in a graveyard in his village in northwest Pakistan but could yet culminate in an Ashes Test for Australia at the home of cricket, Lord's. Friends and former team-mates of the 31-year-old, who fled to Australia in 2010 claiming he was targeted by extremists and now wants to play for his adopted land against England, said his talent was obvious at an early age but he never got the chance to shine in Pakistan.
Syed Qamar, 35, who captained him in the northwestern town of Swabi, told AFP that even as a young man he was a match-winner, baffling batsmen with the legspinner's full repertoire of deliveries. "He was a highly talented bowler, his main advantage was his height and he could deliver leg-break, flipper, googly with ease," he said.
Ahmed played a handful of first-class matches in Pakistan, taking a wicket in his debut match for Abbottabad in 2005, but Qamar said he became frustrated as there was little chance for him to break into the national side from Swabi. Ahmed's relatives refused to discuss him or the threats against him, but family friend Mohammad Asghar insisted they were genuine, though there is no record of militants threatening cricketers in Pakistan or of attacks on domestic matches.
Indeed, some of Pakistan's best players have hailed from the restive northwest - former one-day captain Shahid Afridi is from the lawless tribal district of Khyber and fast bowler Umar Gul is from Peshawar. Ahmed's former team-mate Maqsood Ali, 38, said he always played with a steely determination. "Unlike most bowlers who shout and show excitement on taking a wicket, Fawad would behave very normally and remain quiet," he told AFP.
"Cricket was his passion. When he was not selected for the national team, he told me 'I will play international cricket at any cost'."
Ahmed was granted a permanent Australian visa in November and quickly made a name for himself bowling for the Melbourne Renegades in the Twenty20 Big Bash League. He will be eligible to play for Australia once is granted citizenship, and the Cricinfo website reported that Cricket Australia is lobbying authorities to fast-track his application to make him available for the start of the Ashes in England in July.
If successful he could find himself pulling on the Baggy Green to represent his adopted land on the hallowed turf of Lord's - a far cry from his earliest matches in his home village Marghuz, eight kilometres (five miles) from Swabi. "There was no cricket ground in his village and local people had reserved a plot of land for the village graveyard. He used to play cricket in a portion of the graveyard," said Sher Bahadur, a teacher at the government-run school in the village.
Bahadur said Ahmed was "quiet, polite and sober", not exceptional as a student but completely focused on cricket. "He played cricket for his school and during his five years stay he never had any quarrel with any student," he said. "His focus was cricket and it was in his mind that he would become a good player in future."