Mahmood comes of age by silencing his critics with fiery display

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Among the objectives that the coach Duncan Fletcher has been looking to push towards a conclusion during this series, the advancement of Sajid Mahmood as a bowler with Ashes potential is one that until yesterday still had some distance to cover.

The tall and fast young seamer from Bolton had been blooded into the national team with mixed success, making only a limited impact in the Test series against Sri Lanka and suffering an ordeal in the one-day series against those opponents, where the touring side's prolific batsmen exposed him ruthlessly. The punishment descended into the stuff of nightmares at the Oval in particular, with Mahmood conceding 80 runs in just seven overs.

For a 24-year-old of limited experience, who is in only his third full season of first-class cricket after making his Lancashire debut just four years ago, it left his confidence at a vulnerable level. Fletcher's way, though, is to back those in whom he sees promise and Mahmood's recall in the second Test against Pakistan at Old Trafford signalled that he should not lose his self-belief.

Mahmood's performance in Manchester was overshadowed by those of Steve Harmison and Monty Panesar and he arrived in Leeds aware that the nature of the Headingley pitch might see Jon Lewis selected in favour of him. But it was Lewis who was dispatched back to his county and Mahmood's six wickets here, and in particular his 4 for 22 yesterday, not only indicated that Fletcher and company had chosen the right man but enabled the Lancashire player to hold his head up and visualise an England future more clearly than before.

"Compared with how I felt after the one-day series against Sri Lanka it feels fantastic now," he said after leading the England players off, if a little bashfully, following the team's series-clinching victory yesterday.

"I have taken four wickets for England in a Test, my best figures. I'm full of confidence now. I have put the one-day series behind me.

"I have worked quite hard on my game with Kevin Shine, the England bowling coach, in the last few weeks, particularly on my seam position. I'm really pleased with the way it went here. It was a different wicket from Old Trafford, which was a lot more bouncy, and I needed to bowl fuller but I achieved that."

To a degree, it was something of a coming of age for Mahmood as a member of the England side, a point his captain, Andrew Strauss, emphasised. "We have always known his potential," Strauss said. "If a guy can bowl at over 90mph and reverse swing it, he always has a chance of being a threatening Test bowler. He has probably bowled without luck before this innings and maybe things turned a bit for him today."

Mahmood also had the strength of character to deal with some barracking from the stands that, at times, was less than friendly, making play of his Pakistan roots as the English-born son of immigrants, albeit a family that has been in Britain for 40 years.

"The banter with the crowd was light-hearted at first but then it started to get a bit personal," he said. "I heard the word traitor in a couple of chants but I did not let it affect me. To be honest I tried to ignore it and concentrate on bowling. It helped fire me up."

His success clearly made it easier to bear, even to the extent of joking about who might be behind it when his family's mixed allegiances were brought up. "My father and brother were here watching," he said. "I don't know, maybe it was my dad who instigated it!"