Rehan Ahmed is very young man. He will become the youngest man to play a Test for England if he debuts in Pakistan in December. But the 18-year-old leg-spinner has already crammed a lot into his career to date, including a number of high-profile wickets.
Ahmed – who was added to the Test squad on Wednesday after impressing at a training camp in the UAE – was first used as a net bowler by England at the age of 11 and then returned around a year later shortly after turning 13. Current Test skipper Ben Stokes and former captains Joe Root and Sir Alastair Cook were notable scalps.
« I had Root caught at extra-cover, Stokes was nicked off and so was Cook, » Ahmed told Sky Sports in February. « I was bowling to international players and bowling well. That was when I thought, ‘I want to play cricket for a living.' »
Ahmed came to the fore once more earlier this year when, at the tender age of 17, he picked up 12 wickets in the Under-19 World Cup in the Caribbean as England made their first final since 1998.
The semi-final against Afghanistan appeared to be slipping away from them when their opponents required just 23 from 18 balls but Ahmed’s subsequent over featured three wickets in five deliveries with only one run conceded to swing the game back England’s way.
Three months later, Ahmed made his first-class and T20 debuts for Leicestershire. His summer then went up another notch, firstly by featuring for Southern Brave in The Hundred and then by scoring a century and taking a five-wicket haul in the same fixture, for Leicestershire against Derbyshire in the County Championship.
But all those achievements will be eclipsed if he makes his England bow in Rawalpindi, Multan or Karachi next month and surpasses Brian Close as the youngest man to wear the side’s Test whites. If he features, he will do so having played just three first-class games. He could also line-up alongside James Anderson, who was playing Test cricket before Ahmed was born.
England Test coach Brendon McCullum said of Ahmed after watching him at close quarters in the Emirates: « We know he’s not the finished article and has raw potential but Stokes, myself and the rest of the coaches like how he approaches his game. The experience of being part of the squad in Pakistan will be hugely beneficial for him, and he will add to the makeup of our squad. »
England managing director of men’s cricket Rob Key told Sky Sports News: « He’s got huge potential. He is one of those lads who has a huge amount of talent and loves the game. It’s great to see that infectious enthusiasm.
« He has been part of our plans. We wanted to do a bit of soft launch with him and we feel this is the best way for him to develop. It’s a credit to the team that you can bring in a young lad of that age and we think is really going speed up his development. »
Nasser Hussain always used to say you should pick on character rather than statistics and that seems very much McCullum, Key and Stokes’ way, so it’s no surprise they have taken a shine to Ahmed.
His bowling figures for England Lions against the senior team were nothing to write home about about – 0-73 from eight overs – but that « potential » McCullum and Key mentioned appears to have stood out. He showed it with the bat a day after his call-up by hitting two sixes and three fours in a sprightly 26 from 10 balls.
We want to put him on a path of red-ball cricket where he is going to learn the longest format. If he learns how to bowl in this format, you can do anything. It’s trying to put him on this path where we can see the best out of him sooner rather than later.
Ahmed told the Daily Mail earlier this year that he took up leg-spin because he found it more difficult than off-spin and wanted « to do the hardest thing ». He also told Sky Sports that he relishes bowling the death overs in white-ball cricket, not a domain all spinners are comfortable in. « I love challenges, » he said.
Listening to Ahmed, he seems wise beyond his years: « Since I was a kid, I’ve dreamed of playing for England [but] night-time is for dreaming, so whenever I am awake, I focus on the present and doing my job, » he said in that Mail interview in July.
That job may yet be bowling against the likes of Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan in Rawalpindi next week, which, however switched on he is, would be quite the jump for a man with such limited first-class experience. He has sent down 446 first-class deliveries in his career, fewer than the number fellow spinner Jack Leach delivered in one Test against West Indies in March.
Ahmed’s ascent to the brink of a Test debut is in large part down to his skill and spirit but perhaps also the lack of spinning options elsewhere, with Moeen Ali retired from Test cricket, white-ball linchpin Adil Rashid looking unlikely to return to the red-ball game, Matt Parkinson slipping out of favour and few other county spinners banging the door down demanding to be selected.
England’s initial squad for the Pakistan series featured just the one frontline spinner in Leach, with Will Jacks, Liam Livingstone and Root the supplementary options. A week out from the first Test, and it still seems likelier that Jacks or Livingstone will be second spinner to Leach but that is not a cast-iron guarantee.
When asked whether Ahmed had a genuine chance of selection, Key said: « Potentially. He is way off at the moment in terms of his development but I have no issue with him playing in the series. He’s got guys ahead of him but he has got that chance to be around these people and hopefully he starts learning quicker. »
We know an England side captained by Stokes and coached by McCullum will not be afraid of making a bold selection. Plus, Stokes knows better than most that Ahmed can get good players out. Perhaps England will have a new youngest men’s Test cricketer.
Watch England in action in Pakistan live on Sky Sports. The first Test, in Rawalpindi, starts at 5am UK time on Thursday, December 1 with our build-up beginning at 4.30am on Sky Sports Cricket.