We don’t believe you can draw meaningful conclusions from players’ debuts – but we report on them anyway.
We have a track record of getting overexcited about 18-year-old leg-spinning all-rounders. It worked out last time though, so the way we see it, it makes perfect sense to get completely overexcited again.
If he’s at all averse to being smothered by unrealistic expectations, Rehan Ahmed somewhat inadvisedly faced that overexcitement and justified it. This week he became England’s youngest debutant, England’s youngest wicket-taker and the youngest men’s Test debutant to take a five-wicket haul for any nation.
The thing with being a young leg-spinning all-rounder is that you have multiple possible routes to success. It’s nice to imagine Rehan Ahmed becoming a wrist spin Ben Stokes, smashing hundreds and ripping out sides in the second innings, but it probably won’t pan out that way. Adil Rashid turned out to be a limited overs bowlers who batted at 10. Steve Smith repeatedly metamorphosises into one of the finest batters of all time and now only very occasionally wheels out his double-elbowed chicken dance filth when Australia are in the field.
Rashid and Smith show it’s possible to arrive at very different outcomes from ostensibly similar starting points. And they’re the success stories. There are a lot of ways this could go.
Because 18 is pretty young for someone who bowls leg-spin. Crazily young. Obscenely young. Think of it this way, Shane Warne was pretty okay at bowling leg-spin and he didn’t make his Test debut until he was 23.
It was therefore no surprise at all to see Rehan Ahmed full tossing and long hopping in his first Test . That was so predictable it’s not even really worth remarking on. What was more interesting is that he didn’t mentally implode. Nor did he just rollock in gamely – he did so effectively too, revealing what on this early evidence appears to be a googly of at least semi-fiendishness.
Ben Stokes deserves some credit here. Ahmed had 0-28 after his first four overs. There are some England captains of the not too distant past who would have banished him from the attack at that point, quite possibly for the rest of his life. Stokes immediately gave him another over, which went for nine runs, and then brought him on again after not much more than another hour’s play. His next over went for three and the one after that brought a wicket.
Bowlers who plug away and keep things tight have their place, but Stokes knows that isn’t what a leg-spinner is for and so he didn’t measure Ahmed against that yardstick. England don’t want for bowlers who can plug away and keep things tight. What they have always struggled to find are bowlers who can come on and break a 100-run partnership.
That’s exactly what Rehan Ahmed did in his fourth over in Pakistan’s second innings. If that sounds a little like Stokes had left him hanging until a partnership had built – not a bit of it. He’d already bowled a couple of overs with the new ball. He knew his captain wanted him there and that he was far from afraid to use him.
If that Babar Azam dismissal was a bit filthy, the ball to dismiss Mohammad Rizwan two overs later was significantly cleaner. Then he got the other set batter, Saud Shakeel, in the over after that.
Rehan Ahmed was picked because England thought he might be the kind of bowler who could turn 164-3 into 177-6. Measured against that yardstick, he succeeded.
Verdict: A wrist-spin Ian Botham (only without all the other Beefy stuff).
You can watch Rehan Ahmed’s five-for on debut here.
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