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Ahmed relishing role in England’s new era

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Rehan Ahmed is loving life as Ben Stokes’ leg-spin wildcard, admitting he finds bowling maidens “boring” and may have struggled to find his place in a different era of English cricket.

Ahmed became the country’s youngest ever men’s Test cricketer when he claimed a five-wicket haul on debut in Karachi, but has had to wait almost 14 months for his next opportunity on turning pitches in India.

After playing a supporting role in the opening game at Hyderabad, the 19-year-old enjoyed a more central part in the second Test, claiming three wickets in each innings and volunteering himself for promotion in the batting order as the so-called ‘nighthawk’.

Rehan Ahmed
Ahmed is not worried about conceding runs during England’s attacking style (Manish Swarup/AP)

Spurred on by the attacking instincts of captain Stokes, Ahmed has been given full licence to make things happen without worrying about his economy rate and looks well placed to resist England’s historic aversion to wrist-spin.

“I don’t like bowling maidens. I think that’s just boring. I’ll try and change things,” he said, refreshingly honest about his role in the side.

“The leadership and the back-up we have has been very good. They just don’t care about how bad things can go, it’s always about what good you can get out of it.

“If I bowl four bad balls and get a wicket, that’s better than bowling 16 good balls in a row. I think that says more about the team and how comfortable I feel with this team.”

The story of talented English leg-spinners is a brief and largely unhappy one, with the likes of Ian Salisbury, Chris Schofield, Scott Borthwick and Matt Parkinson all failing to turn potential into a long-term place.

But the one that really got away in the Test arena is Adil Rashid: a two-format World Cup winner in white-ball cricket and record T20 wicket-taker, but owner of just 19 red-ball caps and 60 wickets.

He helped mentor Ahmed when he first emerged on the international scene and the pair are still in regular contact.

While fans may wonder how a player like Rashid would have fared under the current regime, Ahmed realises he is lucky to operating in a different environment.

“Rash was in England cricket at a different time to me,” he said.

Adil Rashid
Adil Rashid has been a mentor for his fellow leg-spinner (Nigel French/PA)

“The way he grew up and the way he played is how England cricket was then. Leg-spinners were always felt to not be the controlling ones. Obviously he would have wanted to play more Test cricket, but the time he played didn’t allow that.

“He’s had an unbelievable career and had a huge influence on a lot of players where I’m from, he has done so much for me in cricket.

“(But) Rash grew up with more traditional leg-spin. In this new era with attacking, positive mindsets, I think I fit into this team whereas he fit into that team. It’s just two different players at two different times.”

As well as helping Ahmed with his craft, Rashid and Moeen Ali also helped pave the way in making their Muslim faith an everyday part of life in camp.

Ahmed sat out an optional training session ahead of the second Test as he was fasting and earlier excused himself from a team together that clashed with prayers.

Rehan Ahmed
Ahmed explained how religion plays an important part while on tour (Mike Egerton/PA)

“My faith is obviously much more important than cricket, that’s first in my life,” Ahmed said.

“As 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. Stokes is so good with that.

“He messaged me 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 and understanding. Everyone is on this tour.”

One thing that may prove more divisive is Ahmed’s views on the squad’s favourite pastime, which will feature heavily in the coming days as they take a break in Abu Dhabi ahead of the third Test.

He added: “Golf? Nah. I’m not sure how anyone plays that. It’s a shocking sport.”

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