England v Pakistan, 3rd Test, Headingley, 5th day August 8, 2006

Mahmood rises above the banter

Sajid Mahmood enjoyed his best day as an England cricketer on the final day at Headingley, taking 4 for 22 in eight hostile overs to secure a series victory over the land of his forefathers, Pakistan

Sajid Mahmood: career-best figures, but couldn't silence the barrackers © Getty Images
Sajid Mahmood enjoyed his best day as an England cricketer on the final day at Headingley, taking 4 for 22 in eight hostile overs to secure a series victory over the land of his forefathers, Pakistan. But his day was marred slightly by the barracking he received down on the boundary's edge, as a posse of Pakistani fans accused him of being a "traitor" and a "reject".

Mahmood, whose father was born in Peshawar and his mother in Rawalpindi, was a Pakistani supporter as a child because that remained his parents' allegiance. But, he as explained, from the age of eight or nine he began watching England on the television and playing the game himself, and from then on it was England all the way.

"It started off a bit light-hearted but then it got a bit personal," he said of the banter during his spell, as local Pakistanis, buoyed by the match situation and the cheap final-day prices, flocked to the ground in numbers that had not been seen on the previous four days. "I didn't really take any of it in, I just concentrated on bowling good areas and pitching the ball up.

"I heard the word 'traitor' in my second spell, and a couple of things like that, but I didn't let it affect me," he added. "I just put it to one side and I thought I bowled pretty well." At one stage, after taking the wicket of Faisal Iqbal, he was seen cupping his hand to his ear, and explained: "They'd been giving me such a lot of chat that I did it to see what they've got to say now."

It was an unfortunate incident in a match that was otherwise a triumph for Headingley, who could only look on in envy last summer when their Roses rivals, Old Trafford, had 10,000 people queuing round the block for the final morning of the corresponding Ashes Test. The ground has had its problems with racial issues in the past, not least in 1992 when a pig's head was thrown into a Pakistani enclosure, but this was a new twist on an old theme, and Mahmood rightly laughed it off.

"It was probably my dad down there instigating it!" he laughed. Ahead of last week's second Test at his home ground of Old Trafford, Mahmood had joked that his father would have to support England or else he wouldn't be getting a ticket. He added: "It was a little bit weird, because in that specific corner there were a couple clapping, and a couple hurling abuse, so I didn't know what to do! I thought they would shut up when I got four wickets but they carried on. I just ignored them."

For Mahmood, the mild controversy could not detract from a very important day in his development, after the difficulties he endured in the one-day series against Sri Lanka last month. "I felt a little bit shy about leading the side off afterwards, but felt I bowled pretty well and I enjoyed it," he said. "It was fantastic to get four and I'm full of confidence now. I've put the one-day series behind me and I'll just keep working on my game."

Mahmood singled out Kevin Shine, England's new bowling coach, for particular praise. "Shiny's been brilliant," he said. "He's very similar to Troy Cooley, all the boys think so, and he's shown that here and at Old Trafford. We've been working quite a bit on my seam position, and I can bowl away swing now and reverse it a little. I've just seen footage of my seam position today, and I'm very pleased."

"We've always known his potential," said Andrew Strauss, England's captain. "If he can bowl at 90mph and reverse-swing it then there's always a chance of him being a threatening Test bowler. Today he was spot on. He got his lines right and his lengths right. Possibly he's bowled without luck before this innings, so maybe things turned a little for him today."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo