Rehan Ahmed: The teenage leg-spinner ready to grab England ‘dream’ with both hands

The Leicestershire youngster has long been tipped for big things

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Teenage leg-spinner Rehan Ahmed would not blink if the chance of an England Test debut opened up this winter, insisting: “when your time comes, your time comes”.

The 18-year-old is simultaneously a familiar name and the rawest of rookies – tipped for big things ever since he was invited to net with the national side at the age of just 11, but with just three first-class games for Leicestershire under his belt.

His career path is on a steep trajectory now, though. Already in 2022 he has starred in the Under-19 World Cup, signed for Oval Invincibles in The Hundred and ended his championship season with a pair of significant firsts: a five-wicket haul and a century in the same game against Derbyshire.

Next month he will take part in a training camp in the United Arab Emirates with England Lions, culminating in a three-day warm-up against the senior side, with whom he is likely to join in Pakistan as a travelling reserve.

That places him within touching distance of international cricket, a remarkable rise for someone who made his first-class bow in May and has bowled fewer than 500 balls at that level.

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England’s first-choice spinner, Jack Leach, has sent down almost 24,000, but Ahmed shows no trace of being fazed by his rise through the ranks.

“In cricket, and in sport, you’re going to have ups and downs so when your times comes, your time comes,” he told the PA news agency after a training session in Loughborough. “If it comes now, I have to take it and do my best. My game is in a good place and I’m confident in my red-ball bowling.

“I want to play Test match cricket for England, it’s the pinnacle, my dream since I was young. I say to every captain I play for – I’m always ready. If you want me at the death, if you want me to open the bowling, I’m ready to do it.

“Sometimes it’s all timing. If I’d come up when Adil Rashid was 25 or 26 it would have been a different story but it’s just God’s timing, that kind of thing. I’m humble for it and thankful for it.”

Feeling ready does not mean Ahmed expects an easy life. In fact, he settled on his chosen craft partly because he felt it was the most difficult path available – and most rewarding.

“I started bowling leg-spin because I found it hard. As a kid I tried off-spin and it felt quite easy to bowl, I could land it where I wanted. When I first tried leg-spin it landed in the side of the net and I was like ‘this is better’. You can never master leg-spin, that’s why I picked it.”

England invited Ahmed to train with them at Old Trafford in July, conspicuously pairing him up with Rashid, the country’s most accomplished wrist-spinner in a generation.

Rashid, 34, will go down as an elite player in both white-ball formats but an unfulfilled one in the Test arena, with 60 wickets in just 19 caps. ECB performance director Mo Bobat recently revealed Ahmed had been “inundated” with T20 franchise offers, but any fears that he may prioritise that path would be unfounded.

“I’ve heard some talk already about being just a white-ball player,” Ahmed admitted. “I do find white-ball easier, I can bowl into the wicket, but if you play Test match cricket, then you’re good. That’s the thing, the pinnacle. I want to make an impact in Test cricket.

I started bowling leg-spin because I found it hard. As a kid I tried off-spin and it felt quite easy to bowl, I could land it where I wanted. You can never master leg-spin, that’s why I picked it.

“Training with Adil was very nice, he’s a very fun guy. The chat was straightforward, we didn’t go technical. He said ‘whatever it is you do, keep it simple and stay smiling’.”

Mixing with the best players in the country is not a new experience for the Nottingham-born youngster, who became a minor sensation when he dismissed Ben Stokes and Sir Alastair Cook at an England training session before he had even turned 12.

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Recalling his name-making visit to Lord’s, he says: “I actually bowled quite well, I never really looked at the player, I just tried to get them out. If I bowled to Ben Stokes now it would be like ‘That’s Ben Stokes!’.

“After that I went home there was stuff in the media…I was quite new to that. There was some chat about it at school. There’s obviously expectation and at a younger age that’s not always what you want, but it was quite a nice pressure to play with. It gave me something to play for and I think it actually made me better.”

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