Calcutta: Till around a fortnight ago, leg-spinner Fawad Ahmed's name didn't exactly ring a bell. Not so now.
Granted a permanent visa by the Australian government, the 30-year-old (a cricket-specific portal lists him as being 33) Ahmed is no more an asylum seeker from Pakistan.
On Saturday evening, the headline-making Ahmed spoke to The Telegraph from Melbourne.
The following are excerpts
Q How would you sum up your amazing story?
A Firstly, I'm thankful to Allah... He has taken care of me in a land not my own... Main auron ka bhi shuqrguzar hoon... Cricket Australia, Cricket Victoria, the clubs in Melbourne which gave me the opportunity to play... The local community... I was forced to leave Pakistan (in 2009-10), but wasn't at all made to feel an outsider in Australia.
Did the Taliban compel you to flee Pakistan?
I don't know whether they were from the Taliban or not, but they were certainly extremists... They were terrorists. I can't describe them any better.
But why did they target you?
Because I was working with an NGO, run by friends, which aimed to support the education of girls and young women... The extremists also didn't take kindly to my coaching youngsters to play cricket. Can you believe it! Cricket se problem tha.
Recently, the Taliban targeted Malala Yousafzai, who is as young as 15, for campaigning that girls continue with their studies...
Those wanting to kill Malala aren't humans... I've been following her story in the media and it's a relief that she's on the road to recovery... The extremists can go to any length. They've ruined Pakistan.
Why did you choose Australia?
Actually, I tried other countries, too, but things didn't work out... A friend arranged for me to play club cricket near Sydney... But I landed in Melbourne as my visa got delayed and that club in New South Wales no longer required my services that season (2009-10). I began playing for the Western Warriors and, then, moved to Hoppers Crossing and the Melbourne University Cricket Club.
Having been granted a permanent visa, you're now eligible to play state cricket and could get an opportunity in the upcoming KFC Big Bash League. The future looks bright...
By Allah's grace, yes.
Could you go on to play for Australia?
I'm not aware of how one qualifies to become an Australian citizen, but becoming an international cricketer is the dream of every player... I don't know what the future holds.
[Cricket Australia's Grant Poulter told this newspaper: "In the future, Fawad may become eligible. However, that is some time away and requires closer examination."]
Who gave you the news that Canberra had accepted your plea for a permanent visa?
I was at home, praying, when the Melbourne University Cricket Club president, Derek Bennett, called... I got the good news when I returned his missed call... He told me to relax and to stop getting tense... I thanked Allah and called my ammi in Swabi (near Peshawar).
So, how did you celebrate?
My friends came over that night... Friends of my flat-mate Asif Shah, who has also sought a permanent visa, came over as well... Raat bhar gup-shup hui.
You bowled at the Australia nets before the just-ended Test in Brisbane. But when was the first time that you bowled your googlies and leg-breaks at the Ricky Pontings?
Last season, at the MCG, before the Test against India... I was hoping to bowl to Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag, but I was assigned to the Australian team... Looking back, that was a turning point for me... Batting coach Justin Langer got impressed and I got noticed.
Did you stay with the team in Brisbane?
Absolutely... I was with the team in the Mantra Apartments... Everybody made me feel comfortable, but I'm specifically thankful to (opener) Ed Cowan, who pitched for me before the series.
[Cowan, a centurion, had this to say, exclusively: "Fawad is a skilful leg-spinner and a great person... I first noticed him in the lead-up to the last Boxing Day Test... He impressed us again in Brisbane."]
Michael Clarke and Co. wanted you around as your action is similar to that of South Africa leggie Imran Tahir...
Well, yes... Imran and I have played against each other in Pakistan... He used to play for Lahore, while I played for the Abbottabad region. In fact, I've also played first-class cricket for Pakistan Customs.
Will you also be travelling to Adelaide, for the next Test?
No... The granting of a permanent visa is subject to health and police checks... Right now, I'm required to remain in Melbourne. The last Test against South Africa is in Perth, where spinners have no role... From what I've been given to understand, I'll again be required before the second and third Tests against Sri Lanka, at the MCG and at the SCG, respectively.
How do you make ends meet?
Manage kar leta hoon... I play professionally, then I do some coaching... At times, I've done casual work in a warehouse.
Have you had a role model?
Shane Warne... The world hasn't seen a better leg-spinner... He's been so aggressive... Such an attacking bowler... It's my privilege that I was at the same net when he was training for last season's Big Bash... He gave me a few tips.
Do you closely follow Pakistan's fortunes?
Of course... Had circumstances been different, had I been luckier, I could have played for Pakistan... Had Allah wanted it...I'll be following Pakistan's tour of India with a lot of interest... I've been watching bits of the Ahmedabad Test... I wish I get to bowl to Sachin one day... Nets... Wherever... Ek khwaish hai.
Pakistanis are obsessed with Hindi films and actors. Do you have a favourite?
I watch all the Bollywood Khans... Aamir and Shah Rukh are a notch ahead... Salman and Saif come later.
Lastly... Is there a regret?
(Very emotionally) Pakistan ki mitti miss karta hoon... Mere walidsaheb nahin hain, but ammi ko miss karta hoon... My two brothers and sister... I miss the fresh air of the mountains, the pure water... Woh paani ka taste aur kahin nahin... I miss marriages in the family and I miss Id at home. That used to be so different. It's just not the same here, but...