Some greats of the game began their Test careers in Karachi: India’s Sachin Tendulkar, who would go on to appear more times and hit more hundreds than anyone else, Waqar Younis, a Pakistani king of reverse swing, and Mike Gatting, one of the few English captains to triumph in Australia.
Whatever Rehan Ahmed goes on to achieve following his initial venture at the National Stadium, he can also be assured of a place in the history books. Yesterday, he became England’s 710th and, at 126 days past his 18th birthday, youngest cap in 145 years of the format.
After an inauspicious start, he returned for a much improved postprandial spell in which he made Saud Shakeel the first international victim of his leg spin, and after replays verified the authenticity of Ollie Pope’s short-leg catch, turned from the celebratory throng of his team-mates to salute his father Naeem in the crowd.
Rehan Ahmed became England’s youngest ever men’s Test cricketer after debut in Pakistan
It was a wonderful moment for the Nottingham taxi driver, who grew up in Mirpur, 900 miles north of Karachi and has devoted his non-working hours to the cricketing endeavours of middle son Rehan and his two brothers Raheem and Farhan. There would be training at their Midlands home and net sessions at Lahore’s Gadaffi Stadium on family holidays.
‘I’m sitting and watching my son on debut in a Test match and at the age of 18 so I really enjoyed that,’ Ahmed senior told Test Match Special. ‘He’s old enough and mature enough and I think he can bowl. He worked really hard when he was young, so I really do believe he can do something special for England.’
England have known about Ahmed for some time. He bowled to Ben Stokes, Joe Root and the rest of the Test team not long out of primary school and has come through the age group sides at national level, playing a lead role in the Under-19s reaching the World Cup final earlier this year.
But his career went into fast forward three months ago when he struck a maiden hundred and took a first five-wicket haul in just his third first-class appearance, against Derbyshire.
Ahmed celebrated getting his Test cap with his dad (left) who has devoted hours to his cricket
By the end of September, there was already talk of the teenager being upgraded from a pre-series tour camp to the full squad, putting him on course to beat Brian Close’s record as England’s most junior Test cricketer by 23 days. Ahmed embodies the futuristic principles of Bazball: looking to take the game away from opponents as quickly as possible with the bat and then hunting them down with the ball.
In the United Arab Emirates last month, his attitude told coach Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes he was ready. His bowling had travelled at nine and over but with the bat, he walked out and crashed 26 from just 10 balls off an attack featuring Jimmy Anderson and Ollie Robinson. Their stars had aligned.
Graeme Swann, a high-profile mentor with England Lions on that trip, was suitably impressed.
‘He’s one of the most precocious talents I’ve seen. That might come through in his batting more than his bowling at first because he is off the charts, borderline arrogance when he bats — and that’s brilliant, it’s absolutely his super-strength,’ Swann told The Mail on Sunday.
‘So, I was trying to get him to take that into his bowling. He’s got a lot of bubble and personality but bowling leg spin is a lot more nerve-wracking than batting.
The 18-year-old has taken two wickets so far on his England debut and impressed with the ball
‘What I noticed was the difference between his bowling at the end of the week compared to the start. He’s got a proper swagger about him and I told him never to hide from that when he’s bowling because it’s all about the theatre.
‘Yes, he might go for a few runs but the greatest thing about Ben Stokes’ England is that they try to take wickets, so it’s a brilliant time to be a bowler of any ilk and this was a perfect time for him to play. The sky is the limit for him and he could be around for the next decade.’ Typically, Stokes invited a player with just 10 previous first-class wickets to his name into the action sooner rather than later. The match was just 84 minutes old in fact when Ahmed, the number 53 on the back of his shirt, could be seen rubbing his hands into the dirt at the bowler’s end as Azhar Ali awaited at the other.
Ahmed’s meteoric rise was also a vindication of an 18-team county structure, as he became the first Leicestershire player to play Test cricket for England since Jimmy Ormond in 2001. Perennial wooden spoonists over the past decade they might be, but would he have been given as much exposure to first-team cricket elsewhere?
‘Leicestershire has often been one of those pilloried counties, facing the chop. But what we have done over the past couple of years is rediscover our DNA and that DNA is about producing good young cricketers,’ said the club’s chief executive Sean Jarvis.
‘Rehan is only 18 but already you can see the talent he has got and he is at the front of our conveyor belt. He’s a great role model, a state school kid and he demonstrates that whatever background you come from, you can make it to the very top.’
A young Ahmed (left) met Shane Warne (right) as a kid and Warnie predicted a bright future