Mark Wood and Rehan Ahmed are expected to sit out England’s next Test assignment against New Zealand in February as the management juggle their resources during a busy start to an Ashes and World Cup year.
Wood proved a trump card for Ben Stokes on the torpid pitches of Pakistan, sealing the series with a three-wicket burst in Multan and backing this up with another wholehearted display when the historic 3-0 clean sweep was secured in Karachi.
As well as the strain of bowling 60 overs of 90mph short balls in dusty heat, all while battling the team’s sickness bug, the 32-year-old also spoke on tour about experiencing homesickness for the first time. Only Wood, who has a young family, and Harry Brook, 23, featured in both legs of the Pakistan tour and the T20 World Cup win.
As such, and with the summer’s Ashes in mind plus the World Cup next winter, Wood is expected to take a break during a packed second half of the winter, sitting out January’s ODIs in South Africa and the two-Test series in New Zealand that starts on 16 February. The six-match white-ball tour of Bangladesh in March could mark his return.
Despite seven wickets on debut in Karachi and a maiden five-wicket haul, the 18-year-old Ahmed may also be left out of the next Test squad with the expectation that conditions are unlikely to dictate a second spinner and Jack Leach still first choice.
Brendon McCullum, the head coach, is hoping Ahmed will instead get some playing time in franchise cricket. Despite reports to the contrary, the leg-spinner is confirmed to be entering Friday’s auction for the 2023 Indian Premier League, which begins in late March. If picked up, he would miss Leicestershire’s start to the county season.
The squads for South Africa and New Zealand are due to be named imminently, with Jofra Archer in line for a comeback in the former after 18 months out injured. Stuart Broad and Matt Potts could be restored to the Test team’s stable of seamers after missing Pakistan for parental leave and tactical reasons, respectively.
Ahmed has clearly impressed McCullum, who hopes his remarkable rise inspires talented youngsters across all sports, saying: “It is a great story. He’s a young kid but he has a tremendous attitude; he has a high ceiling in terms of skill level, a bit of x-factor and he has the potential to wow the world, which is pretty cool.
“We have to look after him, encourage him to get as much experience of conditions and franchise tournaments with different coaches and players to allow that talent to come out.
“Just think how many talented players there are in England who might be 13, 14, 15 who might be brilliant at various sports. To see a young kid given the chance at 18 to live his dream and dominate in a Test match, it might just spark one or two to stay away from the things kids that age are doing and we might see more coming through. If that happens, Rehan is a pioneer.”
It’s the type of lofty, big-picture goal that McCullum has made a theme of his tenure. But as the 41-year-old reflected on the team’s achievements in Pakistan, he repeatedly pointed to the leadership of Stokes as the true catalyst for the upturn and insisted he himself does “bugger all”.
“It’s quite incredible,” said McCullum. “What we see on the field pulling the string is one thing – Stokesy is constantly active, making plays and always thinking about wickets and he’s so consistent with his message that he doesn’t care about runs.
“But what he does off the field is quite remarkable – his man management, his general positivity is quite staggering. I thought he’d be good but he continues to exceed expectations. He and I are starting to build a really good relationship, not just on the field but off it as well.
“I’m an incredible optimist but to win 3-0 in these conditions against a very good Pakistan side is probably more than we expected and we had to do it in three completely different ways. We were challenged tactically, technically and even emotionally with sickness off the field. It goes down not just as an achievement but a memory for the guys for the rest of their lives.”