Skipper Michael Clarke says spinner Nathan Lyon needs not look over his shoulder in England in the coming months despite the looming presence of Fawad Ahmed in the Australian team set-up. Lyon was the only spin bowler named in the 16-man squad for the five-Test Ashes series starting on July 10, but there is mounting speculation Pakistani-born leg-spinner Ahmed will be drafted into the side at his expense.
Former refugee Ahmed, 31, will be eligible if minor changes to Australia's citizenship legislation pass through parliament in the next few weeks. Cricket Australia officials are privately confident there will be no complications, and if the amendment to the Citizenship Act passes he could apply for a passport and be in England by June 21, the Sydney Morning Herald said on Monday.
That's when the Australia A touring party begins the last of its three matches against Gloucestershire. The squads for the Ashes lead-in events -- the ICC Champions Trophy and the Australia A tour -- left at the weekend, including Clarke, who played down the growing anticipation that Ahmed would join the team next month.
Chief selector John Inverarity has left open the possibility that Ahmed could be added to the initial 16-strong squad, announced in April. However, Clarke denied he would automatically leapfrog Lyon, who was dropped and then recalled during Australia's 4-0 Test series loss in India in March, saying it was all speculation.
"I think Nathan is well and truly aware of that. He knows where he sits in the team. There is a lot of water under the bridge before we have to worry about the first Test match," Clarke told reporters before his departure. "I think if you listened to what John Inverarity said, he said, 'We've picked 16 and there (are) opportunities for other guys'.
"That could be one player, that could be five players. I don't think he certainly named an individual player." Ahmed signed in April to play with Australian state side Victoria for the next three seasons. He was handed a permanent visa to remain in Australia in November after leaving his home in the border region near Afghanistan, where he said he was targeted by Muslim extremists. He played three Sheffield Shield games for Victoria late last season and took 16 wickets at 28.37, bringing him to the notice of Australian selectors.