HomeCricketRehan Ahmed: ‘The new Nighthawk? I’ll need to score a Test hundred...

Rehan Ahmed: ‘The new Nighthawk? I’ll need to score a Test hundred first’

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Perhaps it is to be expected that, as a wrist-spinner, Rehan Ahmed can send you one way and then the other. As he sat on the roof terrace of the team hotel in Visakhapatnam discussing two compelling Test matches, his time in this England team, and how faith comes before cricket, there was a maturity beyond his 19 years but also the fearlessness of youth.

The latter was in abundance on the third evening in Vizag when, his work with the ball complete and six wickets from 41 overs in the match, Ahmed was seen taking throwdowns on the boundary’s edge. With 14 overs to negotiate at the start of an ultimately thwarted tilt at 399 to win, Ahmed had approached his captain, Ben Stokes, and head coach, Brendon McCullum, about coming in at first drop if a wicket fell, rather than the other way around.

“I don’t know where I got that confidence from,” says Ahmed, speaking before England departed for their six-day break in Abu Dhabi. “I went straight to Stokesy and Baz and was like: ‘Let me get the pads on’ and they let me as well, so that was cool.”

This was not the first time Ahmed has done the job that Stuart Broad dubbed “the Nighthawk”, having been the first lower-order player promoted with licence to attack during his remarkable, seven-wicket Test debut in Pakistan last winter. This time Ahmed raided a couple of boundaries off the final over of the day and chipped in with 23 runs before his dismissal on the fourth morning, but he is unsure if the title is now his. “[Broad] was the original and he has a Test hundred as well,” Ahmed says. “I will try to get one of them first then I can compete with him.”

Ahmed is a bit of a badger, all told, a love of cricket something he struggles to contain even if shadow batting in his room has made way for watching Diriliş: Ertuğrul, the Turkish drama about the Ottoman empire. Golf, in his words, is a “shocking sport” and so the break before the third Test will be spent catching up with his older brother, Raheem. His father, Naeem, has stayed at home after recently being in South Africa to watch Farhan, the youngest of his three cricketing sons, play for England in the Under- 19 World Cup.

Training is strictly off the menu over the next six days but, more generally, Ahmed prefers batting in the nets and bowling in a match given the ability to set his fields and get into a contest. He also knows that as a leg-spinner, one who can sometimes find the Dukes ball slippery during the early county summer, he may need both disciplines to nail down a Test berth in the long term and certainly at home.

Rehan Ahmed celebrates the wicket of Rajat Patidar with his England teammates in Visakhapatnam. Photograph: Manish Swarup/AP

Bowling remains his entry point here in India, even if the country is considered a challenging place for leggies to tour. The few who prosper tend to bowl quicker, something Ahmed recognised between Test matches and, on a flatter surface, results improved. Bowling cross-seam to produce variable bounce is another thing he noticed, an observation that he made himself rather than having been told.

Under Stokes, Ahmed has permission to attack even if his view on economy – “I don’t like bowling maidens. I think that’s just boring” – may be something that takes this a little too far. But it is clear, three Tests into his career, Ahmed feels emboldened by his captain, confident enough to miss training two days out from the second Test in order to fast. Stokes, having played with practising Muslims in Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid, understood.

“Stokes is so good with all that,” says Ahmed. “I remember a time in Abu Dhabi [before the tour] where there was a team day out on a Friday but we had Friday prayers. Obviously me and Bash [Shoaib Bashir] were there. I messaged Wayne, our team manager, asking if we could miss it. Stokes messaged me straight away and said: ‘Come to me whenever you want about this kind of stuff, I understand it fully.’ And he’s stuck by his word. Every time I pray he is so respectful, very understanding. Everyone is on this tour.

“My faith is obviously much more important than cricket. So long as I’m ticking that over properly, I’m fine whatever happens in cricket. I think that’s what helps me be so calm on the field. I feel like I’m not under pressure.”

Rashid is not just an influence for Stokes here, Ahmed often using England’s double World Cup winner as a regular sounding board even if sometimes the answer is simply: “Chill, bro.” Though Rashid often reminds Ahmed they are two different bowlers, one wonders how the former – 19 Test caps without ever securing a settled spot – might have fared in the current setup. Ahmed, still in the foothills of his career and clearly needing patience at such a young age, appears to be thriving.

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