There is no more sought-after commodity in cricket right now, especially English cricket, than a bowler with genuine pace.
Step forward, Saqib Mahmood.
The 21-year-old Lancashire quick has been talked about for a few years as someone to be very excited about. Ahead of last season, England’s all-time leading wicket-taker James Anderson picked out Mahmood as his bowler to watch.
It didn’t quite work out for Mahmood in 2017, a few niggles here and there stalling his progress, though his performances when he did take to the field certainly caught the eye.
He comes into 2018 off the back of a superb winter, both with the England Lions and in the North v South series, which Mahmood says he has learnt a significant amount from.
“The winter has gone really well,” he said. “Out in Australia pre Christmas, and that was really good. After missing out on all white-ball stuff last summer, to then put performances in with the white ball and impress with the red ball as well meant that I was picked on both tours for the Caribbean.
“Different conditions in the Caribbean and somewhere I hadn’t been before. I learned a lot very quickly and I adapted my game towards that. When I played I did well.
“I got wickets regularly which is nice and I showed the selectors what I can do especially with my death bowling skills. I feel like with the experiences I’ve had over the last year or two, I’ve improved my game.
“For example against the West Indies A team, they had 94 Test caps between them. I feel like I held my own out there and if anything I was getting wickets against them.”
Mahmood has just six first-class matches to his name, but has managed to pick up 19 wickets at an average of 26.15. He played the final game of last season, but missed out on this year’s opener due to a small injury.
The advantage he would seem to have over many other bowlers in the county game, and those in England contention, is his ability to bowl at high speeds.
Mahmood explained that, even while going through rehab from an injury over the winter, he was regularly clocked at 88mph. He also believes he has added greater control to his bowling.
“People say I’ve got pace but now I feel I’ve got skill with that pace, and I feel like I’ve made real strides forward in the red ball part of the game,” Mahmood said.
“I’m moving the ball both ways and I’m doing it at pace as well, which is what gets you to the highest level.
“I know that with my pace I can make things happen on a flat wicket like the Aussies did, bowling short and that kind of thing. I have a bit of a unique action and I do get the ball reversing when there is a bit of reverse swing available.
“It’s exciting that England are looking for guys with that pace and hopefully I come into that bracket. You can have that pace but you need the consistency with it and I feel that’s what I’ve got and it’s just about showing it for Lancashire now.”
Lancashire didn’t include Mahmood in any of their white-ball matches last summer, with his few performances coming in the Championship. That led some to consider Mahmood is more of a red-ball bowler.
But his displays in the North v South one-day series in the Caribbean went someway to dispel that. Mahmood took 5-60 in the opening match in Bridgetown and continued to impress throughout the series.
He admits that he views Test cricket as the pinnacle of the game, but stressed his desire to play, and contribute in, all three formats this season.
“I feel I can play all three formats and I’ve found that balance of going from red ball to white ball cricket.
“It’s a big summer for me and I don’t just want to play, I want to be an influential player in all three formats and contribute to winning games for Lancashire.
“Test cricket is the biggest challenge, you are doing it for five days. Mentally and physically it takes its toll. I get a real buzz off winning after four or five days. But all three formats is what I’m targeting, it’s just finding the balance for me now.”
After such a disappointing winter, where the lack of pace in the bowling attack was lamented on a regular basis, England have their eyes fixed on finding a seamer who can bring that dimension to their attack.
But Mahmood is focused purely on delivering consistent performances for Lancashire, believing anything else will take care of itself.
“For me I’m just focusing on Lancashire because if I’m putting performances in and contributing for Lancashire winning games, the guys higher up will see that.
“I’ve just got to think about winning games and the rest will take care of itself. We’ve got four or five seamers here pushing eachother for places. If everyone is fit we can rotate as well. And we have the experience of Bunny [Graham Onions] here now, which will also help me.”