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'Nighthawk' cameo caps Rehan Ahmed's match-seizing day

Stuart Broad gives seal of approval for short-lived batting cameo after five-wicket heroics

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller
19-Dec-2022
Rehan Ahmed blazes a drive through the covers during his cameo at No.3, Pakistan vs England, 3rd Test, 3rd day, Karachi, December 19, 2022

Rehan Ahmed blazes a drive through the covers during his cameo at No. 3  •  PCB

As if it wasn't already dipping into the realms of fantasy for an English legspinner to claim five wickets on Test debut at the age of 18, Rehan Ahmed proved to be the embodiment of a second mythical being in a single remarkable day in Karachi, following his appearance as England's first true "Nighthawk" in the midst of their high-octane run-chase on the third evening.
The Nighthawk is the subversion of Test cricket's more typical nightwatcher role, but one with a more positive spin to suit the all-guns-blazing tempo of England's new approach under Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes.
The notion was first raised within England's team tactics on the penultimate evening of their first Test victory over New Zealand at Lord's back in June, when Stuart Broad revealed that, with 63 runs still required in the fourth innings and five wickets in hand, he had been padded up to pinch a few quick runs in the event of either Joe Root or Ben Foakes being dismissed in what turned out to be the matchwinning stand.
Thereafter, however, Broad's role became shrouded in some mystery, one that he embellished by adding "Official NightHawk for @englandcricket" to his Instagram profile, and turning up to training in a "You Have To Call Me Nighthawk" T-shirt.
But amid the success of England's fourth-innings batting - an approach that included four consecutive 250-plus run-chases against New Zealand and India, and a further nine-wicket win against South Africa - Broad never got a chance to put his new approach into practice. And now, having missed the Pakistan tour following the birth of his first child, it seems the mantle has been passed to the youngest member of the squad.
In the event, Rehan's appearance at No. 3 in Karachi gleaned just 10 runs from eight balls, but those included a blazing straight drive for four from his first delivery. The sun may have been setting fast when he arrived at the crease but, in the wake of an opening stand of 87 in 11.3 overs between Zak Crawley and Ben Duckett, there was never any doubt as to why he had been promoted.
Asked by Mike Atherton on Sky Sports what his orders had been, Rehan replied: "Try finish it tonight! [We could have done it] 100 percent. If we had faced another seven overs out there, it would have been quite easy."
His cameo ended with an agricultural hoick to leg, as Abrar Ahmed exacted some revenge for having been driven for another boundary one ball earlier. "Yeah, I should have played straight," Rehan added.
However, looking on from the Sky Sports studio, Broad was full of praise for the enterprise he had brought to the role.
"The definition of the Nighthawk isn't necessarily how many runs you put on the board, it's the style," Broad said. "Strike rate above 100. That's a tick. Getting out to a hack, that's a tick. So I'm very happy with his introduction to the Nighthawk position."
Broad added that he was sure Rehan's instructions from McCullum would have been to go out and "try and hit your first ball for four." However, the man himself later clarified: "No, he didn't say anything. I said it to myself."
Nevertheless, Broad explained that the unconventional approach to England's run-chase was entirely in keeping with McCullum's supremely relaxed attitude to the supposed tension of a Test-match situation.
"What Baz is brilliant at is, he picks up on the momentum of days," Broad added. "After five wickets, [Rehan's] emotions would have been really high. 'Go and have a bat, go and whack it'. There's no point in just taking the boots off and sitting down, and letting the day come to an end. Go and try and win it for us today, it would have been great if it had come off, but Stokesy gave it a decent go as well."
And it was, ultimately, Rehan's role with the ball that made his cameo with the bat possible, as he ripped out the heart of Pakistan's second innings after waiting a full three hours for his introduction to the day's play. He struck with a long-hop to dislodge Babar Azam and break a threatening fourth-wicket stand of 110, then produced two fine pieces of bowling to add Mohammad Rizwan and Saud Shakeel in the space of 17 balls.
And, after Joe Root and Mark Wood had added two further breakthroughs after tea, Rehan returned to mop up Mohammad Wasim and Agha Ali Salman in the space of two more overs, before celebrating with a sajdah and leading the team from the field with the match ball.
"From not bowling in the first session to five wickets is a dream come true," he said. "I was enjoying it anyway, I was loving it out there, but it was nice to get the ball after three hours."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket