Saqib Mahmood exclusive: ‘I wanted to be part of the Ashes – red-ball cricket is my top priority’

The good news for England is that Mahmood has not been deterred and, after a week of agonising over the future of the red-ball game in this country, the following words should warm the hearts of cricket fans up and down the shires: “Missing out has not changed anything. For me, Test cricket and red ball cricket are my top priority.”

Mahmood joined the Big Bash, with an eye on the Twenty20 World Cup in Australia later this year, and breaking into England’s white ball side permanently. But after such a poor Ashes tour he could well find he is fast tracked as a Test cricketer as part of the rebuilding of the team for the West Indies tour in March.

If that happens he has the ideal mentor, James Anderson, to turn to for advice. His Lancashire team-mate is a big supporter, and a walking Wikipedia of tips about bowling.

“Jimmy has been a great help for me – an example of that this year was playing at Lord’s,” said Mahmood. “We opened the bowling together for Lancashire at Lord’s in 2019 and I bowled at the Nursery End because he likes the Pavilion End. But last summer we had the ODI against Pakistan. Chris Silverwood and Ben Stokes [who was captain] thought I would be more effective from Pavilion End but it was something I had never done before. On the morning of the game, literally Saturday morning, I texted Jimmy for any pointers he had bowling from that end. I didn’t want to phone him in case he was still in bed.

“He gave me a couple of things to keep an eye on with the slope and it worked for me. I bowled great that day. To have him on the end of the phone, to count on his experiences is great and I am lucky to be able to do that. Even that day I had one of my best spells in an England shirt.”

Mahmood, 24, has learned the hard way not to try and copy Anderson and be himself. “I am my own bower. A lot of my wickets are from balls that go on to hit the stumps, lbw or bowled. I am not that bowler who bowls pretty outside off stump, swinging the ball away. It has taken me a while to come to terms with that.

“You have a stereotype of an English bowler who bowls outside off and swings it away. As much as I wanted to do that, I have accepted it is not the way I bowl. For me it is about hitting the stumps, being versatile. I can be someone who can be a seam bowler one day and a swing bowler on another and when nothing is going on I can crank the speed up. I watched a lot of guys growing up but I am trying to get the best out of my skill sets and improve those rather than be something I’m not.

“Over the last couple of years I have improved every year and 2021 was my best calendar year. I progressed well with Lancashire and did well for England when I was subbed in for the Pakistan series and finished the year doing well in the Big Bash as well so it was massive for my confidence.

“It is hard to be consistent in white ball cricket and that was my main aim. Before, I was seen as a speed merchant. But I wanted to show what I can do with the new ball and that I’m not just all about hurling it down as quickly as I can but there is also skill and accuracy in there too.”

There will be new caps in the West Indies. Mahmood will join the bowling group, and England also like Warwickshire’s Liam Norwell and Brydon Carse of Durham, although he is recovering from a serious knee injury. Alex Lees, the Durham opener, has a good chance, too, along with Lancashire batsman Josh Bohannon.

Change is inevitable after England’s winter of discontent and Joe Root needs fresh players to work with. An Ashes hammering never results in the preservation of the status quo. Mahmood is ready and Anderson could soon be passing on the baton to his protegee. 

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