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Match Analysis

Saqib Mahmood offers England desired point of difference with hard yards on debut

Old-ball graft and final-day burst highlight slingy seamer's invaluable qualities

Cameron Ponsonby
Saqib Mahmood took two wickets in his first spell, West Indies vs England, 2nd Test, Kensington Oval, Barbados, 5th day, March 20, 2022

Saqib Mahmood took two wickets in his first spell  •  AFP/Getty Images

It's good. It's promising. All that learning stuff that Andrew Strauss spoke about before the tour? This is it, here. Saqib Mahmood has passed his GCSECBs.
Four wickets on debut, with a fifth ruled out for overstepping: this was an excellent start for the Lancastrian quick who finished the second Test in Barbados with the best match figures of any fast bowler on a pitch that offered them next to no assistance.
Mahmood looks like he could be the round peg for the round hole in England's bowling attack. For years, the accusation against this team has been that their ten-deep bucket of identikit right-arm seamers created a bowling attack too one-size-fits-all to pose any sort of challenge away from home. They needed something different.
Which is where Mahmood comes in. His abilities complement the needs of a set-up awash with opening bowlers adept on the green seamers of Edgbaston and Lord's. Where others want the new ball, he'll have the old. Where others swing the ball conventionally, he reverses it. Where others bowl quickish, he bowls fast. He is the family member whose favourite Celebration chocolate is a Bounty, hoovering up with joy what others avoid.
"You want to be the guy the captain throws the ball to," Mahmood said at the close on day four. "To break partnerships and take wickets. That's the stuff I get satisfaction from. On green seamers, every seamer feels in the game but on ones like this, I really want to be a guy who can stand up and break a partnership."
Mahmood's peak in this game arguably came in the moment that was taken away. His yorker - which clean-bowled Jermaine Blackwood - tailed in and beat the set batter for pace, only for it to be ruled out as Mahmood had overstepped.
His average speed in this Test was only around 82mph/133kph, though he occasionally touched 88mph/141kph: not lightning fast, but his catapult-style action gives him the impression of a bowler who feels quicker than the numbers suggest. It was a delivery more reminiscent of Jasprit Bumrah than Jake Ball and should give England hope that they have a bowler who, rather than being dependent on conditions, is able to operate independently of them entirely.
"I felt like criminal number one, the biggest criminal out here," Mahmood reflected. "I was pretty gutted but tried not to let it affect me. Rooty spoke to me and said 'you bowled great; don't let it affect you'. Stokesy said he did the same for his first wicket. I was just concentrating on the task ahead more than anything. I'm glad we got him out because every run he scored made me feel horrible."
His burst on the final day - where he dismissed both Shamarh Brooks as well as half-wall, half-human Nkrumah Bonner - gave England hope in a situation that otherwise seemed desperate. The ball to Brooks may not have moved masses, but the one to Bonner did, with movement off the seam in conditions where all others had failed to break from the straight and narrow. The ability for a seamer to break through in unhelpful conditions is something that England have been screaming out for; on debut, Mahmood took the first step to answering the call.
There might be an element of redemption in this debut for Mahmood as well. First called into a squad in 2019, he has been around the set up for much of the two years since. England know Mahmood well. For that reason, it would be fair to wonder whether the odd doubt ever entered his mind that perhaps England had seen what he had to offer and not liked it. This tour really did represent an 'if not now, then when?' moment for Mahmood.
But if England didn't see it before, they do now. "It was really impressive," Root said, "[...] on a wicket like that, to seem so effective and to offer so much. He burst the game open for us [with] a brilliant spell. He created a lot of pressure and made things happen on a wicket where no seamer looked like they could. It's a great sign for him and for us."
In the fourth innings, Mahmood bowled the most of any seamer, and more than Chris Woakes and Fisher combined. After the tea break, with seven wickets in a session needed for victory, Mahmood was the man Root turned to.
Mahmood remains close with his former academy director at Lancashire, John Stanworth. Recalling watching him bowl for the first time at the tender age of 14, Stanworth said: "It was just, 'wow, who's this?' You knew just straight away there was something to engage with." Many of the England supporters watching Mahmood bowl with a red ball for the first time this week will have thought much the same thing.

Cameron Ponsonby is a freelance cricket writer in London. @cameronponsonby