Winning Bizness Sports Desk
It is not often that an 18-year-old takes the cricketing world or for that matter the sporting world by storm. But that is exactly what the Nottingham-born outrageously talented leg-spinning teenager Rehan Ahmed has done.
Debuting on December 17, 2022 for England against Pakistan in Karachi, he was primarily instrumental in destroying the Pakistani batting in the second inning of the third Test match to enable England win and achieve a memorable 3-0 sweep of the Test series.
At just 18-years and 126-days, Rehan became the youngest man to represent England. He also established another record, that of becoming the youngest debutant to log a five-wicket haul in men’s Tests, snatching this record from another contemporary great—Pat Cummins of Australia.
There have been others younger than him who have debuted for other countries. In India, the
legendary Sachin Tendulkar debuted at 16-years and 205-days while L Sivaramakrishnan, also of India, at 17-years and 118-days. Hasan Raza is the youngest for Pakistan at just 14-years and 227-days.
But for England, Rehan Ahmed is a first. The only other teenager to debut for England in Tests was Brian Close way back in 1949.
That England, long marked by conservatism in team selections preferred to dare and select Rehan to play a Test match and that too only after three first-class matches reveals as much about his talent and the England team management’s belief in him as it does about the refreshing mindset prevailing there under the new regime of Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes, the coach and captain of the team respectively.
Of Pakistani descent, his father having come to England from Pakistan several years ago in pursuit of a better life, Rehan exploded on that tense third day of the third Test match by snaring five valuable wickets.
These included The Big Two of Pakistan’s batting machine—Babar Azam and Rizwan—besides Saud Shakeel who has distinguished himself in this series. Agha Salman, another of Rehan’s victims, is no mean batter either while the fifth victim was Mohammad Wasim.
The wicket of Rizwan must have been particularly satisfying to Rehan and England because it showcased not only Rehan’s evolution as a leg-spinner in the last few months but also highlighted the hard work he has put in under England’s spin coach Jeetan Patel, a former New Zealand cricketer.
Rehan took five wickets (5-48 off 14.5 overs) on that tense third day of the last Test match (he took two in the first inning) to take his match tally to seven in his very first Test itself—a creditable achievement indeed.
Rehan conceded 89 runs in the first inning for his two wickets off 22-overs but the fact that he bounced back in the second to demolish Pakistan reveals his ability to learn quickly, remedy shortcomings and press forward.
These qualities were visible in him from a very young age itself. Rehan’s dream-like story began even before he attained 12-years of age. He was a net bowler for England even then and he soon came to the notice of cricketing legend Shane Warne, now sadly no more amongst us.
Warne predicted that Rehan would become a first-class player by 15 but as it happened he made it at 17. He also made it to the England Under-19 team and was a part of its World Cup journey till the final which, incidentally, India won.
He seems to have impressed the talent scouts during the Under-19 World Cup so much that he was picked by the Southern Brave in The Hundred tournament. He plays for Leicestershire since 2017, having moved there from Nottinghamshire. He has so far played 14 games in the T20 Blast and five for Southern Brave.
His performances ensured that he was selected for the England Lions team against South Africa. The rest as they say is history as he soon found himself on the touring party to Pakistan, England’s first in 17-years (after 2005).
Rehan’s debut was not only memorable in terms of his performance but also emotional and heart-touching in a way. He made his debut in Pakistan, the land of his ancestors from where his father had migrated to England. His father was fittingly present during his debut in the stands but remarkably and in a departure from the normal, he was also allowed to be present in the team huddle when Rehan was presented with the England cap. This, he received from a former England captain and distinguished batter, Nasser Hussain, who himself is of Indian origin, having been born in Madras (now known as Chennai).
After the match, Rehan said that he would forever be grateful to his mother, for as he said on Twitter “Without my mother’s prayers, I would never have got to this stage. I’m forever grateful to my mum, who unfortunately wasn’t able to be here with me. However, her prayers are always with me regardless."
The teenager’s first few steps at the first-class, List A and T-20 levels in England, have been heartening and promise much for the future. In his only Test so far, he snared seven wickets which includes a fifer. In List A (one-dayers), Rehan has played seven matches for five wickets at an economy rate of 5.74.
The numbers do not look very impressive but his career is still in its infancy and the way he has evolved in the last one-year, one can say with a certain level of confidence that these numbers will start looking better as he plays more matches. In T-20s, he has healthier numbers—19 matches for 21 wickets at an economy rate of 7.38. These numbers can only get better and better as he matures.
While there is no question that bowling is and will be his primary function, his batting capabilities also require highlighting. He already has a first-class century with 122 as his highest score and an average of 25.75. In seven List A matches, Rehan has scored 89 runs with 40 as his highest score while in T-20s, he has logged 100 runs with 33 as his highest.
In the final Test match against Pakistan, he was sent one-down on the third evening when England was chasing 167 runs for victory. Rehan was sent in as a ``nighthawk’’ by England with instructions to score fast. He displayed his batting prowess albeit for a very brief period when he hit two fours in his 10 runs made off just eight balls before being dismissed by Abrar Ahmed.
He struck a powerful straight drive for four off the first ball he faced in fading light that evening, revealing glimpses of his batting talent, growing confidence and mental make-up which should hopefully see him represent England well into the next decade.
The Pakistan tour has catapulted Rehan Ahmed into international limelight, not just as a dangerous wicket-taking bowler but also as a potential all-rounder who can wield the willow effectively.
Rehan Ahmed’s Test career has just begun—in fact, it is just one Test old and he has not yet played a single ODI or T-20 international. There will be ups and downs in his career path going forward. It would be unwise for England and cricket connoisseurs world-wide to burden him with expectations for that would be the surest way to stifle his career even before it has taken off.
He faces two stern tests over the next two-years--the first is the Ashes series in June next year. Will Rehan be in England’s playing XI? It is difficult to say for the ball swings prodigiously during the June-July period in England. There is also the likelihood of frequent showers during that time and spinners could find it difficult to grip the ball.
Besides, Rehan’s style of bowling is such that he could go for runs. Australia too plays an aggressive brand of cricket and they could target an inexperienced Rehan--it is therefore likely that England would prefer the accuracy of Jack Leach against Australia.
His second test will come on England’s tour of India in 2024 for a five match Test series. How he stacks up against Indian batsmen weaned on spin and playing on their home-grounds to boot will determine his career progression over the next few years.
Rehan has had a dream beginning to his career. He is only 18 and a nearly two-decade long career beckons him. His emergence has come as a whiff of fresh air and augurs well for England. Cricket connoisseurs can eagerly look forward to hearing a lot about him in the future.