Mahmood arrives fresh and hostile for England battles

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The Caribbean proved to be good recruiting ground for the England cricket team during the Test series against India. It was from here, while on England A duty, that Alastair Cook, James Anderson and Owais Shah answered SOS calls from Nagpur when Michael Vaughan, Marcus Trescothick and Simon Jones withdrew from the tour squad.

Each made a valuable contribution during the three-Test series. Cook scored 60 and an unbeaten 104 on his debut, Shah posted 88 and 38 in his maiden Test, and Anderson took 6 for 79 on an impressive return to the side.

Four further players from the England A tour - Vikram Solanki, Gareth Batty, Kabir Ali and Sajid Mahmood - have since become members of the one-day squad and each will be keen to make a similar imprint, starting this morning in a practice game here against a President's XI. Solanki, Batty and Kabir have been involved in the England set-up, off and on, for more than three years. But it is the presence of Mahmood that could make the biggest impression over the course of the seven-match series.

Mahmood is a fast bowler in the Stephen Harmison, Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh mould. He is tall, loose-limbed and hostile, and he has arrived in India with his confidence high after an excellent A tour of the West Indies. In two Test matches the 24-year-old took 12 wickets at an average of 12.4, and in five one-dayers he claimed a further 12 wickets at a cost of 16.8.

Mahmood made one unremarkable appearance for England in one-day cricket against New Zealand at Bristol in 2004. He looked nervous in each of his spells and walked off with the unflattering figures of 0 for 56 in seven overs.

Despite his undoubted potential he has found it hard to establish a place in the Lancashire side, playing only seven games in 2005. But Lancashire's reluctance to pick him has not stopped Duncan Fletcher and Troy Cooley talking positively about Mahmood's future.

Fletcher's aim is to have ready-made replacements for every England player, and during the Test series Cook proved himself as an opener, Paul Collingwood and Shah as middle-order batsmen, Monty Panesar as a spinner and Anderson as a replacement swing bowler. The only player missing, aside from a wicketkeeper, is a big, nasty fast bowler who can get bounce out of dead surfaces.

"It is nice to hear the coaches talk about me like that," Mahmood admitted. "All I want to do is play cricket for England. That is my ambition. I'd like to think I am improving all of the time and that when I get my chance I will take it. I see myself more as a Stephen Harmison type of bowler than a Matthew Hoggard. I am an opening bowler and my main aim is to take wickets with the new ball."

Before now Mahmood has gained as much attention for being the cousin of Amir Khan, the boxer who won a silver medal at the 2004 Olympics, as he has for his bowling.

"I got in the ring with him once when I was 17 or 18 and he was about 12 or 13," recalled Mahmood. "I came out of it with a couple of black eyes. It was a bit embarrassing, really, and I vowed never to get back in the ring with him again. I punched and punched him but I kept hitting his guard, and when I dropped mine there he was."

In an effort to get even Mahmood invited Amir to have a bat against him in the nets a year ago. Amir accepted but his advisers would not let Mahmood bowl at him. "Amir has been an inspiration to me," he said. "Getting a silver medal at the Olympics is a great achievement and his professional career is going very well. But whenever I spend time with him we don't really talk about sport, we just chill out."

Having a famous cousin has its benefits, but you get the feeling that Mahmood wants to make a name for himself, and the next three weeks offer him the perfect stage on which to do it.

l Andrew Flintoff has moved up to sixth in the latest ICC Test bowling rankings and up two to 24th in the batting. Australians Ricky Pointing and Matthew Hayden lead the batting rankings, with Muttiah Muralitharan of Sri Lanka top of the bowling ahead of the Australian duo Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne.