Rehan out to make an impact as readymade Rashid replacement

West Indies

For more than a decade, the pièce de Rashistance of England’s white-ball set-up has been Adil‘s wristspin.

Filling the shoes of any world-class performer is almost always a doomed task. And those anointed to do so rarely appreciate the burden of expectation that is lumped on their growing shoulders. But nevertheless, step forward Rehan Ahmed.

Rehan was the pick of England’s bowlers during defeat to West Indies in the first ODI, claiming 2 for 40 from his ten overs, spinning the ball sharply in both directions. His googly, which is arguably more of a stock delivery for him than his legbreak, is sensational. A modern-day legspinner in the shape of Rashid Khan as opposed to Shane Warne. And he can launch the ball out of the ground with the bat too.

At a time when England are heading into the final years of Rashid’s career, the fact a readymade replacement is developing in front of our eyes is a blessing. Whether Rehan contributes the same quantity of wickets that Rashid has done across his career, it’s impossible to tell. What you can be sure of, however, is that he will provide a quality of entertainment that few across the rest of the game can.

Rehan was picked for Pakistan last winter on the basis that Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum just liked it. What they liked exactly, no one was really sure. A batter who bowls? A bowler who bats? No one knew. They just felt that whatever mysterious concoction they’d been served up by the Leicestershire academy was delicious and they wanted lots more of it.

“I don’t mind being hit for runs,” Rehan said the day after England’s defeat. “I just want to take wickets. The runs aren’t really part of it. I know there’s going to be a couple days where I get it wrong and I get hit around, which I’m fine with, it’s just more when I’m on top and I’m bowling well to [try to ] impact the game as much as I can.”

On Sunday in Antigua, Rehan gave West Indies No. 3 Keacy Carty a living nightmare. In 17 deliveries to Carty, who has been struggling for domestic form, Rehan conceded just seven runs as he consistently turned the ball past both edges. Yes, the pitch assisted spin – but if it’s turning, you want your spinner to bowl well. And he did.

“I think there was a couple of overs in there I could have maybe attacked a bit more,” Rehan said a spell that looked certain to have won England the match. “[I could have] played around with the field a little bit more. But again I’m not seeking perfection and I felt like I bowled very well. I think I challenged the stumps quite a bit. But there’s always ways to improve.”

This isn’t to retire Rashid prematurely, with the sweet spot for England potentially lying in the idea of playing both of them. For just £40, you can go to a Trent Bridge ODI and watch Qui-Gon Jinn train his Padawan one over at a time. After all, in the same way that Rehan was picked for the tour of Pakistan on the basis that if you’re good enough, you’re old enough – a 39-year-old Rashid in 2027 may rock up to another World Cup on the basis that if you’re good enough, you’re young enough.

“I think so,” Rehan replied when asked if he reckoned England could play with two leggies in one side. Which, admittedly, is a question it is in his interest to answer affirmatively. “You see more than one seamer in a team, so there can always be more than one legspinner.”

“Rash is probably the best legspinner in the world right now and whenever I’m with him I try to take as much information as I can, especially on his legspinner – he’s got about 12 so I just try to pick one of them for now. But it has offered me a lot and I’m getting a bit more sidespin than I used to.

“I played a couple of T20s in the summer and the Bangladesh game [in March] as well so I think it was a nice feeling for all of us together. I feel like I can speak to Rash about bowling and it felt like a practice game even though it was an international game so it kept me very relaxed.”

What’s more, if the idea of more than one legspinner in a team is cause for excitement, a team with more than one Ahmed is doubly so, with Rehan’s brother, Farhan, a 15-year-old offspinner, set to be named in England men’s Under-19 World Cup squad.

“He bowls a lot of dot balls so he’ll be quite boring,” Rehan joked. “But no, I’m very happy for him. He’s very young and he’s been picked for such a big thing as well. It’s an unbelievable achievement. He’s actually at school right now doing his physics test.”

Rehan is one of three brothers, and the family have a strong cricketing bond with his elder brother playing regularly for Nottinghamshire 2nd XI. The trio also regularly turn out together for their club side Cavaliers and Carrington – previously described by Rehan as the “Manchester United of cricket, the best club in England”.

So invested is Rehan, he returned to play for Cavaliers the weekend before the Ireland ODI series in September began. “I play with my older brother and younger brother and dad in club cricket and it’s the best feeling ever. As many of us that can play together, it’s always going to be good. Whether it’s for England, for county, for school, for a club, anything. I think playing alongside family is always a great feeling.”

Cameron Ponsonby is a freelance cricket writer in London. @cameronponsonby

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