Rehan Ahmed, the teenaged legspinning allrounder, took everything in his stride during a breakthrough 2022 season. He has already impressed in county cricket - last month, he recorded his maiden first-class hundred and five-for in the same Championship game - and played in the Hundred and for England Lions; Mo Bobat, the ECB's performance director, says Ahmed has already been "inundated" with opportunities from franchises around the world.
But next week, he expects to feel starstruck when he boards a plane to the UAE along with James Anderson for a training camp which will present him with an opportunity to break into England's Test squad for their tour to Pakistan. "He's played international cricket longer than I've been alive," Ahmed, who was born in August 2004, says with a grin. "It's crazy."
Ahmed is only 18 years old but is one of three spinners in the Lions training group that will spend November in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, along with Jack Carson and Liam Patterson-White. He will play against an England XI in a three-day friendly at the end of the camp, and a successful month could see him taken to Pakistan as a net bowler, or even a back-up spinner.
"I am trying to stay in the present, not thinking too far ahead," he says. "If they take me along to train with them, great; if not I will come back and train with Leicester. Personally, I feel mentally ready. They have not said 'we are taking you' or this or that, but I feel like I always have to be ready for that moment."
Ahmed has caught the eye with his quick, modern style of legspin, particularly in short-form cricket, but describes himself as "more of a batsman" and wants to become "a proper allrounder". He spent the summer asking Paul Nixon and Claude Henderson, Leicestershire's coach and director of cricket, to move up the order; in the final round of Championship game, he hit 122 off 113 from No. 5.
He admits that he is cricket-obsessed. "I can't go a day without picking up a bat or a ball," he says. "It's not possible." During the Hundred, his Southern Brave coach Mahela Jayawardene told him to take a day off after seeing his insatiable appetite for training; he snuck in an early-morning session in the indoor school while Jayawardene wasn't looking.
He is also a keen cricket watcher, and thinks that England's ultra-positivity suits his own game. "It's the only thing I'm interested in, in my life," Ahmed says. "I watched most of the Test matches this summer. It's a great entertaining style and it's not reckless either - just a very fun way to play cricket.
"My dad is from Pakistan and I have family there. It would mean the world to represent England in Pakistan. It would be great"
"I just never get sick of it, really. Even on a bad day, I'm like, so what? I just keep shadow-batting. I keep thinking about the game. People say sometimes it can get you mentally drained but as much as I try to not to, I just keep thinking about it. I just think it's the best thing ever. I don't really think of studies, movies, anything like that. It's just cricket."
Perhaps that is no surprise: his father Naeem was an allrounder growing up in Pakistan but moved to the Midlands to work as a taxi driver. "He couldn't really play cricket when he wanted to, so he wanted his sons to do it. He'd work long hours in the night and then take us to games in the morning. He sacrificed a lot for us, and my mum has been behind us the whole time."
Ahmed is one of three brothers and insists that Raheem, a left-arm seamer who has played for Leicestershire's second XI and the eldest at 19, is the best player in the family, though his progress has stalled due to injury. Farhan, the youngest, is only 14, but bowled offspin for Nottinghamshire's seconds this summer, with Luke Wood among his victims.
"He's a proper cricketer," he says of Farhan. "I don't know why he's an offspinner but you don't want two legspinners in the same team. If we want to play for England, we're going to have to do two different things. We have all had dreams about all three of us playing."
Clearly, England will have to take good care of him. "He's someone we have a really high opinion of," Bobat says. "He hasn't played a huge number of games but he's someone I've been speaking to quite a lot, trying to map out his winter. He's in that category of player where he's young, high-potential, and has done some things on TV that people get excited about."
Bobat is keen to find a balance between finding him opportunities in franchise cricket and ensuring he develops as a red-ball player. "I've already spent time with Leicestershire trying to map out a medium-to-long-term plan for him. English cricket has a real responsibility to manage him carefully."
Ahmed adds: "The ECB will try to do what's best for me. I have a lot of trust in them."
If he does get an opportunity in Pakistan - in December, or in 2024 when England return for another three-Test series - it would be a special moment. "My dad is from Pakistan and I have family there, so I've been a few times," he explains. "We're from a place called Mirpur. Whenever I've been, I'll go to the stadium and train and you'll have a load of bowlers ready to bowl to you, and a load of batters ready to bat.
"Every time I've been, it's always been great: the way they look after you there is crazy. It would mean the world to represent England in Pakistan. It would be great."