He loves the big stage – Rehan Ahmed backed to shine when Ashes call comes
Leicestershire leg-spinner Ahmed has been called up to the England squad after the thrilling curtain-raiser at Edgbaston, which saw Australia win by two wickets to move 1-0 up in the series.
Teenager Ahmed, the youngest man to play Test cricket for England after his December appearance in Pakistan, was drafted into the set-up owing to concerns over Moeen Ali’s injured finger.
Moeen reversed his decision to retire from red-ball cricket to feature in the series opener – after Jack Leach was ruled out of the Ashes with a stress fracture – but a burst blister on his right index finger troubled the off-spinner in Birmingham.
The wound is being monitored by England’s medical staff ahead of Wednesday’s start and while there is optimism Moeen will be passed fit, Leicestershire’s director of cricket Claude Henderson knows the county’s talented prospect will be ready if called upon.
Henderson told the PA news agency: “Rehan is one of those characters: the bigger the game, the more he wants to stand up.
“He loves the big stage so let’s see what happens. I don’t know what the situation is like with him yet regarding the next Test but he joined them today and let’s see where that goes.
“He loves a challenge. He doesn’t play names, he plays the ball. He loves cricket and just wants to compete against the best players in the world, which is a great attitude to have.”
If Moeen does not recover in time, England could still leave Ahmed out of their XI and go with an all-seam attack at Lord’s supplemented by Joe Root’s off breaks.
Ahmed is not short of match practice though, having featured in seven of Leicestershire’s red-ball fixtures in Division Two.
Four half-centuries have followed and the 18-year-old reserved his best display for Headingley, home of the third Ashes Test, where he claimed three for 89 and smashed 85 in a memorable three-wicket win for his county.
“He has played a massive role for us in the County Championship. He came in at number seven, got good runs, got a 90 (against Glamorgan) and got a hundred at the back end of last year, so he is a really promising batter,” Henderson added.
“His bowling has shown a lot of good signs as well. April and May can be tricky in county cricket for leg spin but he stuck at it, has shown progress and is just a wonderful character to have in the changing room.
“It is important from us on Rehan’s development to keep getting him overs, which is great. We’ll keep doing that to try and create opportunities for him to develop as the final cricketer.”
Six wickets at an average of 67.66 and an economy rate of 4.01 in Division Two this season may not strike fear into the Australians, but Ahmed showed on his Test debut with five for 48 in Karachi the difficulty of picking up his leg breaks.
At the age of 11, Ahmed had bowled to future captain Ben Stokes in the nets and two years later left the late Shane Warne in awe of his wrist spin.
England’s decision to again go bold and call up the teenager to cover Moeen over more experienced options suggests even if there is no Ashes debut at Lord’s, Ahmed could break Brian Close’s record as England’s youngest player in the men’s Ashes later this summer.
And if not, Henderson feels the all-rounder can continue to aid Leicestershire’s promotion charge.
He said: “Look, let’s see what happens. We never know with Lord’s, Lord’s can spin.
“It depends on the weather and what they want to do but he just offers so much in the changing room, with the bat and he is the whole package.
“We’ll see what England say. I know they do send back some players when they are not playing, they ask them to go back and play county cricket.
“I think it would be healthy for Rehan to keep playing cricket, not sit on the bench but there are always opportunities and it is just great for us to see him back in the mix with England.”