Rehan Ahmed says playing in this summer’s Ashes would be a dream, but something he can handle after flourishing in cricket’s most intense format.
‘I still dream of it, but at the same time I take each day as it comes. If I play I play, if I don’t I don’t kind of thing,’ Ahmed reveals, of the prospect of taking on the Australians.
‘The thing is with England cricket, if I don’t play I love watching it, so when I was 12th man in Pakistan, it wasn’t just me being 12th man, it was me actually watching England cricket live and it was like the best day of my life.’
Ahmed did so much more than just wear a fluorescent bib in Pakistan, of course. Three months ago today, he celebrated becoming England’s youngest Test cricketer by dismissing the set fourth-wicket pair Babar Azam and Saud Shakeel for half-centuries, either side of removing Mohammad Rizwan, on his way to a debut five-wicket haul.
After plunging Pakistan’s second innings from 164 for three to 216 all out in Karachi, the teenager was then sent out by England captain Ben Stokes to have ‘a dip’ at number three, scoring 10 off eight balls as the tourists chased a rapid victory eventually delayed until next morning.
Rehan Ahmed says it is his ‘dream’ to play for England against Australia in the Ashes series
Ahmed became England’s youngest ever test cricketer after making his debut last December
Although Jack Leach remains above him in the Test pecking order, England know the Leicestershire leg-spinner has the temperament to face Australia. One notable feature of his professional career so far – it incorporates just four first-class matches, remember – has been an uber-confident image.
It is not one that Ahmed knowingly deconstructs, but an episode with his boyhood coach and mentor Rahim Ali, after returning to the East Midlands following England’s historic 3-0 win, highlights how much pressure a player already capped in all formats at 18 has dealt with.
Everything in Pakistan felt like a blur, so the pair sat down and watched a TV re-run of his seven match wickets.
‘It was weird because I felt like when I was watching myself, I was feeling every single ball – exactly what I was thinking for each one,’ Ahmed recalls.
‘The only thing so far playing for England, not that I was scared of, but I knew I’d be most nervous about was Test cricket, and I was.
‘When I was bowling my first ball to Azhar Ali, I was like “I can’t feel my forearm.” But I loved the feeling. It took two or three balls for it to go. When I was hit for my first boundary, I just thought: it’s a normal game now.’
Speaking after opening his wicket accounts in both one-day and Twenty20 internationals on the white-ball tour of Bangladesh, he adds: ‘The Test match was the highest level of pressure I’ve ever played in. That was a different type of intensity. This was very hard, but a Test match was physically, mentally so much harder.
The 18-year-old recently featured with the ball in England’s T20 loss to Bangladesh in Mirpur
He has now played in all formats for England and admitted that the Test format was hardest
‘One hundred per cent the joy I got from playing Test match and winning the Test match was unmatched. I don’t know if anything can match that.’
In Bangladesh, Ahmed was part of an England bowling attack alongside Adil Rashid, the man he’s destined to replace long-term as the country’s premier spinner.
For now, they remain quite different bowlers: Rashid gives the ball air and tries to outfox opponents with his variations whereas Ahmed employs a much quicker, flatter trajectory and narrower range of deliveries, looking to hit the stumps as often as possible.
Naturally, he has been tapping into Rashid’s ideas on the art of leg-spin, but in Bangladesh there was also the influential Richard Dawson on hand. Two years ago it was Dawson’s unwavering commitment to Ahmed as England Under-19 coach that catalysed his career. Until that point it was far from certain that Leicestershire would hand their young star a professional contract.
Next week, the pair of them will sit down with Mo Bobat, the ECB’s performance director, and members of Leicestershire’s coaching staff to map out a playing plan for the 2023 summer designed to have him match-ready for senior national teams.
Ahmed took seven wickets in a dream debut and could follow that up this summer vs Australia
One aspect the early part of the season should teach him is patience. Seamer-friendly conditions are unlikely to lead to a huge volume of overs for a wrist-spinner.
Patience is also developing off the field. Ahead of his first winter as an England player, Ahmed declared he had no hobbies as his life was 24-7 cricket.
But being in hotel rooms for weeks at a time has altered that outlook. He has recently immersed himself in Resurrection: Ertuğrul, a 13th century Turkish period drama on Netflix, tracking the emergence of the Ottoman Empire. At five seasons and 448 episodes in length, it requires commitment.
As does Test cricket. ‘I used to see it as something that’s a boring game. But it’s a long game, it’s the hardest game. Now I see it as the most fun game, the one to take the most joy from,’ he says.