Cricket

Rehan Ahmed England to call up after just three first-class matches

Leicestershire leg-spinner Rehan Ahmed, 18, is set to make his first senior England squad next month despite playing just three first-class matches.

England will take an extended squad to Abu Dhabi for an intra-squad warm-up match involving the England Lions. This will prepare for Pakistan’s three-Test tour in December.

Ahmed will be named in the Lions group and is expected to be retained for the Test tour, possibly as a net bowler and travel reserve, raising the prospect of him becoming England’s youngest-ever Test captain. Can become debutants.

Ahmed ended the county season in style against Derbyshire last month. He first century (122 runs off 113 balls at No. 5) and first five-wicket haul (five of 114 runs) in his third first-class match.

Ahmed has been on the radar of cricket fans for longer than the average youngster, with three first-class appearances for the county last season in this year’s championship.

He has been a player of national interest for some time. In 2016, aged just 11 and then in the Nottinghamshire system, he was invited to bowl with the England team before the Test at Lord’s and dismissed Ben Stokes. A similar call came the following summer, and he continued to impress.

This year, he was also invited for an entirely more serious session with Adil Rashid ahead of an ODI in Manchester. More serious because, by then, even though he was still a teenager, he was a professional athlete being seriously considered for full international honors.

He took 12 wickets in four matches in that year’s Under-19 World Cup, which saw England lose to India in the final. In the English summer, he was an ever-present for Leicestershire in that year’s Vitality Blast, taking 19 wickets in 14 matches, then played five of the Southern Brewers’ eight matches at the Hundred, where he signed for £50,000.

En route to England, many see Ahmed as Rashid’s long-term successor in the white-ball set-up, but it is in Test cricket that his first call is coming. He will travel to Abu Dhabi as an England Lion in November, then continue to Pakistan for a three-Test series in December.

He was signed up to play in the inaugural Pakistan Junior League, in which a handful of English youngsters currently play. But Ahmed has pulled out in anticipation of a busy winter (as well as his England call-ups, he will play for the Gulf giants in the inaugural ILT20 in the UAE. He will be coached there by Andy Flower).

In white-ball cricket, Ahmed has made a name for himself by bowling a mixture of googlies and leg breaks down the pitch, but England will be hoping that time in his set-up will boost his red-ball bowling. And will help him gain momentum. In terms of fitness

England has a lot of cricket coming from Asia, meaning they need spinners. They are planning Lions tours of Sri Lanka and Bangladesh for both red and white ball cricket in the New Year. That could help build up to five Tests in India – where England has won one of their last 10 matches – as early as 2024, with a tour earmarked to include Ahmed.

England has only ever capped an 18-year-old Brian Close in Test cricket against New Zealand at Old Trafford in 1949. He was 18 years and 149 days old, meaning Ahmed, born in August 2004, would make him the youngest in England. He had to play this year. In recent years, Sam Curran and Haseeb Hameed both played Test cricket as teenagers.

An early debut for Ahmed will be important for other reasons.

No Leicestershire player has been capped by England since 2011 when James Taylor made his debut, shortly before moving to Nottinghamshire. Incidentally, Taylor, 32, returned to the club on Monday as its new batting coach.

Ahmad’s younger brother Farhan is also causing excitement. Another spin-bowling all-rounder, the 14-year-old plays for Nottinghamshire Seconds.

Moeen Ali has announced his retirement from Test cricket, while Rashid has not played a Red Ball match since his last Test in January 2019. Jack Leach is the only certainty for an XI (and the only red-ball spinner among the 30 contracted players) that will likely need more than one spinner. Will Jacks, who has outlined his plans to become a genuine all-rounder, will likely make the tour with Liam Livingstone another tough part-time option.

Matt Parkinson’s stock – and confidence – has plummeted since replacing Leach as Connexion’s sub in the season-opening Test against New Zealand at Lord’s. By the end of the summer, he had been replaced as a concussion and covid-19 sub (requiring the player to be on standby rather than on the ground), by Liam Pietersen-White, the Nottinghamshire all-rounder, who won the Champions League. Took more wickets in the ship. More than any other English spinner this summer (28 out of 41).

Dom Bess endured a difficult season in Yorkshire and will play grade cricket in Sydney this winter, while Mason Crane has only made the Hampshire Championship team once.

A more experienced option is Liam Dawson, the Hampshire all-rounder, who is with England as a traveling reserve for the T20 World Cup, having impressed with bat and ball on the white-ball tour of Pakistan.

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