Lancashire seamer takes unexpected opportunity with new-ball strikes in England rout
The message Ben Stokes delivered to England’s hastily-assembled ODI squad ahead of the series with Pakistan, which involved 18 players being called in at barely 48 hours’ notice, was that “everyone deserves to be here”, Saqib Mahmood said after his four-wicket haul helped set up a disarmingly straightforward nine-wicket win over Pakistan in Cardiff.Mahmood picked up two wickets in his first three balls to give England a near-perfect start after their rocky build-up, which saw the original squad go into self-isolation as a result of a number of Covid-19 positives. With the replacements having to meet one another over Zoom while they assembled in their hotel rooms and waited for the obligatory test results, Stokes and Chris Silverwood, England’s head coach, were only able to oversee a single training session before sending out a team featuring 135 caps, 99 of which belonged to Stokes.
“I guess the message we’ve had, something Stokes reiterated last night after training was, ‘yes, it is weird circumstances, but at this given time, everyone here deserves their place and everyone here is the best player for that position that they’re in,'” Mahmood said. “I think the message that Stokesy gave the boys should help fill them with a lot of confidence – given it is weird circumstances – that everyone deserves to be here. That’s the message we’ve had.”
Playing in only his fourth ODI, Mahmood was still England’s senior seamer by a distance – Lewis Gregory and Brydon Carse were making their debuts, while Craig Overton had one previous appearance, in 2018, to his name. Mahmood has been on the fringes of England’s white-ball sides since making his T20I debut in New Zealand in 2019, but hadn’t been involved in an ODI XI since the Ireland series last summer.
“It’s the number one side in the world and you’ve got to do some pretty special things to take over from some of the guys who have the spots,” he said. “When I’ve played for England I haven’t managed to take that opportunity. I don’t think it’s a side where you’re coming in, you’ve got the time to settle. You’ve got to come in and try and make the most of your opportunity because there’s that many big players around.
“I felt in the T20s I haven’t nailed my place yet but in the one-day side I was just starting to make strides last summer and then obviously I haven’t played for 12 months. I’m glad I was able to take that opportunity today, and then hopefully I can just back it up in the rest of the series.”
Although several members of the side had not played List A cricket in more than two years, Mahmood said the ongoing Vitality Blast had been good preparation and that “the fact it all happened so quickly… was better”. He duly slipped into gear by trapping Imam-ul-Haq lbw first ball, and then having Babar Azam, Pakistan’s captain, taken at slip.
Saqib Mahmood dismissed Babar Azam for a duck in his first over Getty Images
“Getting a wicket first ball is obviously the best start you can get off to – it just eases the nerves a little bit,” he said. “To get two in the first over was unbelievable, and it was just making sure after that we still kept the intensity up, didn’t go through the motions just because you’ve got a couple of poles early on. I felt we did that and obviously picked up four wickets in the first 10 [overs], which puts the opposition on the back foot straightaway. It was a great start – [we] couldn’t ask for much better.”
On removing Azam cheaply, he added: “Especially on a wicket like that, where it was doing a bit up top, you want to get him in as early as possible and try and get him out. The later he comes in, the harder it is to get someone of that quality out. So luckily for us, we got him in early and got him out as well.”
After a gentle introduction to captaining the limited-overs side in which he bowled one over and wasn’t required to bat, Stokes praised his untested attack for helping to kill the game early and urged the group to “enjoy the situation we find ourselves in” – as well as warning that Pakistan would be likely to come back stronger at Lord’s on Saturday.
“When you get any new group of players together you are always striving for that team performance and something like today is a massive boost,” he told Sky Sports. “But we do need to keep in mind that we weren’t put under any pressure today and I’ve got no doubt that we will [be] at some point. It’s also a great learning curve that sticking to the basics serves us really well but [we have to] remember that not every game of cricket will go that smoothly for us.
“I just said to them to go out and do what they had been doing for their counties this season and [in] previous seasons and enjoy the situation that we find ourselves in.”
Alan Gardner is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick