England reward Saqib Mahmood with call for T20 series with Pakistan
Saqib Mahmood knew he was on to something when Babar Azam, the world’s No 1 batsman, started treating him with caution and now the England fast bowler’s reward is a chance to stake his claim for this year’s T20 World Cup.
Mahmood proved the breakout star of the makeshift England team’s 3-0 victory over Pakistan in the one-day internationals, claiming a wicket with the first and last balls of his series and nine overall at 13 runs apiece. James Vince grabbed headlines with a sublime 102, but Mahmood bowled beautifully throughout.
The upshot is a call-up to the squad for the Twenty20 series that starts at Trent Bridge on Friday and which includes nine of the previously isolated players. It means a reunion with Azam, who made a stunning 139-ball 158 on Tuesday but, after being dismissed early by Mahmood at Cardiff and Lord’s, started his third innings with 14 dot balls against the Lancashire man.
Speaking about his lightning start to the series, in which Azam was one of two wickets with his first three deliveries, Mahmood said: “At the time you don’t think about the quality of player you’ve got out. But going into the next game you want to get him out in the middle again and have that attacking mindset.
“I think if a batter’s got the better of you naturally in the back of your mind you can go slightly defensive. I feel like throughout the whole series, even in the last game, I was trying to attack him early doors and I think he was slightly wary and didn’t really try and play any shots up front and kicked on after I got taken off.
“To be able to do that to the No 1 batsman in the world you realise that now, probably not at the time when you’re in the middle.”
Mahmood is not getting ahead of himself but – as one of four stand-ins retained along with Dawid Malan, Matt Parkinson and Lewis Gregory – views the upcoming T20s and playing for Oval Invincibles in the Hundred as an opportunity to impress the returning Eoin Morgan. A blistering spell of reverse swing during the Roses match at Old Trafford earlier this season also marked him out as a Test candidate.
In white-ball cricket he credits a conversation with Ed Smith, the former selector, for adjusting to a fuller length at international level, the penny having dropped that his extra pace in county cricket was accounting for wickets but more lateral movement was required against the world’s best.
Jimmy Anderson, his Lancashire teammate, has also been a valuable sounding board as regards accuracy, while Mahmood fancies the power of Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow – both absent from the series – has filtered down to the county game, inspiring the likes of Phil Salt when called up to the squad.
Both Bairstow and Roy are back for the T20s, so too Jos Buttler, although Ben Stokes, Sam Curran, Mark Wood and Chris Woakes are all absent as England look to prepare multi-format players for the India Tests that start on 4 August.
The three players who tested positive for Covid-19 last week, plus one additional case that is understood to have occurred since, are all absent from the squad, with Sam Billings confirming on Twitter on Wednesday that he was among those to catch the virus but is now recovered.
It is a blow for Morgan, looking to build plans for the T20 World Cup in October, but a chance for the understudies. As Mahmood succinctly put it: “It’s been a bit of a special week. A week ago, no one was talking about me.”
England, who will have Paul Collingwood as head coach with Chris Silverwood returning to his scheduled break, are also monitoring the situation at Headingley. The ground, where yesterday’s Roses match was abandoned due to issues with water rising in part of the outfield, hosts the second T20i on Sunday.
A spokesperson said: “We are in close contact with Yorkshire regarding today’s abandoned fixture. The club are doing everything possible to ensure that the upcoming IT20 match against Pakistan can go ahead and based on current information we are confident that it will be able to take place.”