Rehan Ahmed 'mentally ready' if accelerated development leads to England call-up

Rehan Ahmed ‘mentally ready’ if accelerated development leads to England call-up

Rehan Ahmed, the leg-turning all-round teenager, took it all in his stride in a breakthrough 2022 season. He has already impressed in County cricket – last month he recorded his first top five cent in the same league game – and has played in the Hundred and for the Lions of England; ECB Chief Performance Officer Mo Bobat says Ahmed has already been “inundated” with franchise opportunities from around the world.

But next week he expects to feel dazzled when he boards a plane to the United Arab Emirates with James Anderson for a training camp that will offer him the opportunity to break into the test squad. England for their Pakistan tour. “He’s been playing international cricket longer than I’ve been alive,” Ahmed, born in August 2003, says with a smile. “It’s crazy.”

Ahmed is only 18, but he is one of three spinners in the Lions training squad who will spend November in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, with Jack Carson and Liam Patterson-White. He’ll play against an England XI in a three-day friendly at the end of camp, and a successful month could see him taken to Pakistan as a net thrower, or even a backup spinner.

“I try to stay in the present, not to think too far ahead,” he says. “If they take me to train with them great, otherwise I’ll come back to train with Leicester. Personally, I feel mentally ready. They didn’t say ‘we’re taking you’ or this or that, but I I always have to be ready for that moment.”

Ahmed has caught the eye with his fast and modern leg style, particularly in short form cricket, but describes himself as ‘more of a batsman’ and wants to become ‘a good all-rounder’. He spent the summer asking Paul Nixon and Claude Henderson, coach and manager of Leicestershire cricket, to step up in order; in the last round of the championship game, he hit 122 of 113 from No. 5.

He admits he is obsessed with cricket. “I can’t go a day without picking up a bat or a ball,” he says. “It is not possible.” During the Hundred, his Southern Brave trainer Mahela Jayawardene told him to take the day off after seeing his insatiable appetite for training; he snuck into an early morning session at the indoor school while Jayawardene was not watching.

He is also an avid cricket watcher and thinks England’s ultra-positivity suits his own game. “It’s the only thing that interests me in my life,” says Ahmed. “I watched most of the Test matches this summer. It’s a very entertaining style and it’s not reckless either – just a very fun way to play cricket.

“My dad is from Pakistan and I have family there. It would mean the world representing England in Pakistan. That would be great.”

“I never get sick of it, really. Even on bad days, I’m like, so what? I keep playing in the shadows. I keep thinking about the game. Even though I try not to, I keep thinking about it. I just think it’s the best thing ever. I don’t really think about studying, movies, anything like that. It’s just cricket.

It’s perhaps no surprise: his father Naeem was an all-rounder who grew up in Pakistan but moved to the Midlands to work as a taxi driver. “He couldn’t really play cricket when he wanted to, so he wanted his sons to. He worked long hours at night and took us to games in the morning. He sacrificed a lot for us, and my mum has been behind us the whole time.”

Ahmed is one of three brothers and insists Raheem, a left-arm tailor who played for Leicestershire’s second XI and eldest at 19, is the best player in the family, although his progression stagnated due to injury. Farhan, the youngest, is just 14 but dropped out for Nottinghamshire seconds this summer, with Luke Wood among his victims.

“He’s a good cricketer,” he says of Farhan. “I don’t know why he’s an offspinner but you don’t want two legpinners in the same team. If we want to play for England we’re going to have to do two different things. We’ve all dreamed of all three of us playing.”

Clearly, England will have to look after him well. “He’s someone we think very highly of,” says Bobat. “He hasn’t played a lot of games, but he’s someone I’ve talked to a lot, trying to plan his winter. He’s in that category of player where he’s young, with great potential. and did some things on TV that people get excited about.”

Bobat is keen to strike a balance between him finding opportunities in franchise cricket and ensuring he develops as a red ball player. “I have already spent time with Leicestershire trying to work out a medium to long term plan for him. English cricket has a real responsibility to manage him carefully.”

Ahmed adds: “The ECB will try to do what is best for me. I have great confidence in it.”

If he has an opportunity in Pakistan – in December or in 2024 when England return for another round of three Tests – it would be a special moment. “My father is from Pakistan and I have family there, so I have been there several times,” he explains. “We come from a place called Mirpur. Every time I’ve been, I’ll go to the stadium and practice and you’ll have a bunch of bowlers ready to play you, and a bunch of batters ready to hit.

“Every time I’ve been there it’s always been great: the way they look after you there is crazy. It would mean the world representing England in Pakistan. It would be great.”

Matt Roller is associate editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98

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