Menace of Mahmood a promising sign of the Cooley legacy

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The Independent Online

Sajid Mahmood woke yesterday to memorable reviews. "Stunning," said the Telegraph. "The stuff of dreams": The Guardian. Mahmood had caused Sri Lanka's middle order to implode with one of the best-ever debut performances by an England bowler on Friday evening - three wickets in nine balls for no runs.

Some of the magic wore off yesterday. Wickets were hard to come by. The burden of the bowling attack passed back to the older stagers - Matthew Hoggard and Andrew Flintoff. But, even then, Mahmood could still take plenty of pleasure from his performance. His colleagues enjoyed it too, even though his success might be a threat to them. Hoggard said last night: "It's nice to have a squad, nice to rotate, nice to have people in the wings."

The excitement on Friday evening was the speed at which he bowled reverse swing. Here was the man capable of doing Simon Jones's job in Australia next winter, if Jones's depressing sequence of injuries is not broken. You don't have to bowl fast to make reverse swing effective, but, by God, it helps if you do.

The heavy, misty mood at start of play yesterday would have reminded Mahmood of Old Trafford, where he plays when Lancashire pick him, and of Bolton where he was born on 21 December 1981, and where he played street cricket with his cousin, the boxer Amir Khan.

He should have felt more at home than the evening before, but Mahmood bowled too short too often to take advantage of his natural ability: 3 for 9 in six overs overnight became a slightly disappointing, though still very respectable 3 for 50 in 13 overs at the end of Sri Lanka's first innings. Two spells of five overs at the start of the second innings brought 0 for 17.

In the cold light of morning, we were reminded that we have been here before. Remember Ed Giddins, the swing bowler who was preferred to Steven Harmison for the Lord's Test against Zimbabwe in 2000. It was not Giddins's debut, but in only his second game for England his figures of 5 for 15 got him an honoured place on the board of best performances in the England dressing room. He was named Man of the Match, and must have hoped it was a prelude to a decent Test career.

Three years later, Somerset's Richard Johnson had even better figures when Zimbabwe toured again. At Chester-le-Street he took 6 for 33, but this was a prelude to not very much at all. Johnson was a victim to a series of injuries and played in three Tests; Giddins, who regularly pressed his self-destruct button, managed only four.

What makes Sajid Mahmood any different? David Graveney, chairman of selectors, says that Mahmood is part of Troy Cooley's invaluable legacy. Before England's shrewd bowling coach returned to Australia, he declared that Mahmood deserved attention. Cooley liked what he saw. Mahmood is 6ft 4in, rangy and strong. He comes in off 12 paces and uses his height to get bounce. A slightly slingy delivery and the right-wrist action, allied to 90 miles an hour, are the proper ingredients for the kind of reverse swing that wins Tests.

When Mahmood pitched the ball up and swung it late on Friday he created chaos in the collective mind of Sri Lanka's middle order. Graveney believes he is capable of repeating the performance against sterner opposition. Whether he can be the match-winner that Jones became last summer is another matter.

What happened at Lord's, first in the morning gloom and after tea when the sun came out, showed that England still rely principally on the front line. In the morning, Hoggard and Flintoff gradually eroded Sri Lanka's resistance. Hoggard's 200th wicket in his 52nd Test was the headline, and his 4 for 27 in 14 overs the best figures. Captain Flintoff took the other two to fall. No surprise there.

In the afternoon sun, it was Monty Panesar who finally broke the century partnership that lent respectability to Sri Lanka's second innings. But Mahmood had already left his mark. Despite the strength of the competition among England's squad of fast bowlers, it would be astonishing if he played no more than three or four times for England.

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