When Sajid Mahmood burst on to the Test scene in 2006, taking three wickets in his opening four overs on debut against Sri Lanka, many observers expected this rare combination of raw pace and natural athleticism to become a key component of England's pace attack.
However, the past four summers have been increasingly frustrating for the Lancashire paceman, who has failed to establish himself as an England regular. A place in the Test side against Pakistan in this series looks a long way off, and the 28-year-old admits he has become so disillusioned at the lack of opportunities to play international cricket for England, the country of his birth, that he has thought about playing for Pakistan, the country of his parents.
Pakistan officials indicated privately, through intermediaries, that they were interested in Mahmood, but in order for him to be eligible to play he would have to move to Pakistan for four years and perform on their domestic circuit.
"I was approached by Pakistan but it was indirectly. There was no formal approach. It just got back to me that Pakistan were looking at me and that I may have the right to play for them," Mahmood says.
"Sometimes you do well, you get opportunities but then you get dropped and it does cross your mind that you want to go and play somewhere else because you think you want a longer run in the side and you're just not getting it.
"I'm 28 now, maybe I have six or seven years left and I want to play most of that in international sport. I feel I'm ready for that. Wasting four years now would mean that I would be 32 or 33 [when he qualified to play for Pakistan] so I would be near the end of my career. My goal since I was young and my goal now is to play for England and I believe I will play Test cricket for England again."
Mahmood's gripe with the England selectors is that when he has been chosen, he has not been given a long-enough run in the side. His last match came in a one-day international against South Africa last November, but he was dropped for the Bangladesh tour.
"I got a call-up to the South Africa series, only played a couple of games and then got dropped, which was disappointing," he says. "I played well in the two seasons prior to the call-up, then to play just two or three games against the No 1 team in the world, and to be left out again, was very frustrating.
"The selectors wanted to look at other players to broaden the squad up, which was fair enough, but I was obviously upset by that. Everyone would be. I was pretty gutted because I would have liked to have gone to Bangladesh because I thought that would have been the perfect place for me to get back into international cricket.
"I spoke with the selectors and they said they wanted to look at other younger players coming through. They have given Ajmal Shahzad a go and he has done pretty well but I would like to think that if they had given me a chance I would have also done well."
Mahmood claims he is now able to deal with the pressures that accompany top-level sport. "There are very few people who start their international career and flourish straightaway," he says. "I think you need a few games to get settled in. There are different pressures in international sport, you have the media, the crowds, and you're representing your country.
"I know that I can do it on the big stage. When we [Lancashire] played against Yorkshire in front of 15,000 people and the cameras were there, when I was bowling I couldn't hear anything because I was so focused on what I needed to do. I have improved the mental side of my game massively over the last few years, which shows in my batting and bowling results."
Mahmood has had a good season with Lancashire, impressing with bat and ball in four-day and one-day cricket. He is still hopeful his county form will catch the eye of the England selectors and make him an outside bet for the Ashes.
"I admit in the past I have been very up and down in my performances but over the last two years I have improved a lot. I'm averaging over 30 with the bat and around 28 with the ball and have been taking wickets consistently. I'm bowling well and am definitely having more good days than bad ones."Reuse content