SYDNEY (AFP) – Pakistan-born leg-spinner Fawad Ahmed has spoken of the death threats and intimidation he received before fleeing to Australia and getting a fairytale chance to play in the Ashes series in England starting this month.
Ahmed, 31, was this week granted citizenship and could now feature in Australia's effort to reclaim the Ashes, starting in Nottingham on Thursday.
The cricketer opened up about his experiences in an interview published Saturday about how he was forced to flee in 2009 after receiving death threats from extremists in his native Pakistan for his perceived promotion of Western values, and for helping an NGO that championed women's education, health and vaccinations.
"I got seriously threatened by those people,'' Ahmed, who sought asylum in Australia, said in an interview with the Herald Sun newspaper.
"They terrorised me, they made death threats to me. They don't like to educate women. They want the people in the dark so that they can dominate them easily.''
He said the atmosphere had deteriorated in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province, near the Afghanistan border, where he lived with his family, since the September 11 attacks in the United States in 2001.
"Things are going from worse to worse, especially in the past five or six years,'' Ahmed said.
"Things have become extremely bad. People are suffering and especially the poor people. People dying for nothing. Car bomb blasts, target killing, insurgencies. Especially where I was living. Those areas are now the ones in the red zone.''
He said when he began a professional cricket career at age 23 with Abbottabad and began to coach women cricketers he started receiving threats.
"The terrorists would come straight to my face and say, 'Step down from what you are doing otherwise you will see a serious problem later on','' he said.
"I got an opportunity to play for my state in Islamabad, but they still keep following me, keep threatening me, texting me and saying, 'You are still helping those people and when we find you we will seriously harm you'.
"When it comes to these threats on your life you don't have options.''
He decided to flee Pakistan and a friend suggested he could organise a short-stay visa to play club cricket in Australia.
There, Ahmed's cricketing skills were recognised and he got the opportunity to train with the Victorian state side, impressing with his spin-bowling in the nets.
He faced deportation from Australia last September after his claim for asylum was rejected for a third time, but received support from officials and teammates at the Melbourne University club.
They helped him appeal directly to the federal immigration minister to continue to stay in Australia.
It was while waiting to hear from the minister that Ahmed was contacted by Test batsman Ed Cowan, who said the Australian team was looking for a net bowler whose action resembled South Africa leg-spinner Imran Tahir for their home series against the Proteas.
After several days of having his face and story plastered across the nation's media, Ahmed was informed that his application for permanent residency status had been granted.
Last season Ahmed played in Victoria's final three Shield matches, taking 16 wickets and was selected in two Australia A matches in Belfast and Bristol last month.
On his return to Melbourne he discovered that his application for Australian citizenship had been approved, as he prepares to depart for the Australia A tour of Zimbabwe and South Africa.
Now much is being made about the prospect of Ahmed being elevated to the Test ranks.
Even if he does not get to bowl in the Ashes series in England, Ahmed said he will be satisfied.
"I came here for a safe life, not for the cricket,'' he said.
"To play for Victoria or Australia was far away from the dream. I just came here to just live as a normal human being, as a safe human being.''