Tour of the West Indies
Fawad's breaking down boundaries
The Pakistani Muslim asylum seeker on how playing cricket for Australia is a platform to educate, starting in the dressing room
Fawad Ahmed knows only too well that being an Australian Muslim can be a challenging existence at times.
The ongoing conflict in the Middle East and incidents closer to home like the Sydney cafe siege last year have had a significant impact on Ahmed and the 500,000 Muslims living in Australia, who are unwillingly linked to the atrocities due to the misinterpretation of a religion that is peacefully adhered to by the vast majority of its 1.7 billion followers.
Ahmed's journey from Pakistan to Australia – he was forced to seek asylum five years ago after being persecuted for helping educate women in his local area – has been well documented.
His rapid rise through Melbourne club cricket to the Victorian senior team and eventually the Australian one-day international and T20 sides has been a remarkable one, with his international debut in August 2013 coming less than two months after he was granted citizenship.
But cricket is just one part of the 33-year-old's new life in his adopted county.
Ahmed starred in Victoria's Bupa Sheffield Shield win // Getty Images
And as a proud Muslim, Ahmed says he is affected deeply when extremists around the world and at home use his faith to justify despicable acts of violence and oppression.
"I feel really sad when something like this happens. Especially when they're using the name of the religion," Ahmed told cricket.com.au.
"That's very sad actually and it really hurts inside. I'm not expecting it from those people.
"I'm not sure what their aims are and what they want to do, but using the name of the religion and doing that stuff I think is really bad.
"Especially for our community, it creates a lot of problems. I would love to do my best to create a better environment.
"I think it's really important, especially at this stage because the environment is not that good (compared to) a few years before.
"The times are changing and things are changing and unfortunately the country has a few bad people that have created a problem for us 1.7 billion Muslims.
"So I would love to spread the message on behalf of my community to all Australians."
George Bailey presents Ahmed his T20 cap in August 2013 // Getty Images
As a Muslim representing the most quintessentially Australian of sporting teams – the national cricket side – Ahmed is fully aware of the unique platform he's been given to generate change and promote acceptance.
The reverence with which the Baggy Green cap is held in the Australian consciousness should not be understated.
The role of Australian Test captain – a position that has been held by just 45 men in 138 years – has often been placed second in order of national importance to that of the prime minister, a seemingly frivolous suggestion but one that holds some measure of accuracy for the sports-mad nation, particularly at the height of summer.
So the possible elevation this week of a Pakistani Muslim asylum seeker to Australia's Test team – an elite club that has inducted just 441 members since 1877 – would be a symbolic yet important step forward for the Islamic community in Australia.
Ahmed won't be the first Muslim to play Test cricket for Australia should he be handed his Baggy Green cap in Dominica on Wednesday; Usman Khawaja made his Test debut in 2011 and has played nine Tests and three ODIs for his country.
Ahmed on the Dominica shoreline, ready to make waves // Getty Images
But the leg-spinner understands the significance of his unique story and the positive role he can play for all Australians, not just those of Islamic faith.
"I feel very honoured and it's a great feeling for me to be an inspiration especially for the youngsters and even for the whole society and the community in Australia," he said.
"I can spread and send the message that we're not a part of what happened in Sydney or other things happening in Melbourne or other places.
"We can send the message and spread that message that we are Muslim as well, we follow our religion as well and most importantly we are well adjusted and we are part of this system.
"We are Australians, we are national here and we can help to grow this country and we can put ourselves in different departments of life.
"It's an honour for me and I would love to do more and more for our community and for myself as well to spread the message so we can live together."
Spreading that message starts in the dressing-room with his teammates, who like a lot of Australians haven't had a significant level of interaction with Muslims, particularly in a cricket environment.
Ahmed made an impact on the 2013 Australia A tour // Getty Images
The small differences between Ahmed and the 15 other players in the squad on this tour of the West Indies manifests itself in different ways.
His playing and training attire is relatively bare compared to the rest of the squad; his shirts are without the logo of tour sponsor Victoria Bitter, as the promotion of an alcoholic beverage conflicts with his beliefs. Ahmed's stance has the support of the sponsor, and the practice is now well entrenched by the precedent set by Hashim Amla of South Africa.
He fits in daily prayers around the team's busy training and playing schedule, and his preparations for the upcoming Ashes series will include a month of fasting for the annual observance of Ramadan.
It's a way of life that is rarely seen in cricket teams at any level around Australia. So when it is, inevitably questions arise from curious teammates.
Fawad sends down a delivery in Antigua last week // WICB
"At club level and then the state level and now at the Australian level some of the guys ask me about things like Halal food and prayers. And Ramadan is coming up next month and there are so many different things happening this time of year," Ahmed says.
"So they ask a lot of questions and I'm happy to discuss it with them.
"And I think it's a good knowledge for them ... and good for their life experience as well.
"So I'm happy to answer any questions and I'm happy to discuss with them."
Highlights of Ahmed's eight wickets in the Shield final
So how does a Pakistani Muslim with English as a second language fit in to the dressing-room of the Australian cricket team, where legends of brotherhood and beer-drinking manliness – factual or not – seem to be mythically weaved into the fabric of the Baggy Green ?
"I'm well-adjusted now. I've been in the system for many years," Ahmed says.
"I don't have any problems at all and the guys are amazing. Apart from teasing each other, which I think is a good thing," he adds with a smile.
@davidwarner31 haha they were hungry.. So I have too 🍼🍼🍼— Fawad Ahmed (@bachaji23) May 29, 2015
"I think it's a good environment inside the team.
"And I'm having a lot of fun, I'm really enjoying it and I'm well-adjusted to the system."
The hope is that Ahmed's feats on the cricket field will help other Muslims 'adjust to the system' in the wider Australian community as well.
And vice versa.