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Interviews

Rehan Ahmed: 'I'm not yet the bowler I want to be in five years'

England legspinner happy to bide his time for Leicestershire as he waits for next international call

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller
29-Mar-2024
Rehan Ahmed bowls during training on England's tour of India  •  Associated Press

Rehan Ahmed bowls during training on England's tour of India  •  Associated Press

Rehan Ahmed says that his aim this summer is to be ready to play for England at all times and in all formats, but he admits his immediate focus at Leicestershire might have to be on his batting, given that his legspin is unlikely to be a major weapon at this early stage of the season.
Rehan returned early from England's tour of India following a family bereavement, having played in each of the first three Tests. Though he did not have the same impact as on debut at Karachi in December 2022, he still picked up 11 wickets at 44.00, including a six-wicket match haul at Visakhapatnam.
But, at the age of 19, Rehan recognises that the experience he's already gleaned in his short international career far surpasses the impact that he could have been expected to make.
"I feel like I've got nothing to lose in this situation," Rehan said at the Kia Oval, during Rado's unveiling as the official timing partner of England cricket. "I know I'm not the bowler I want to be in five years. I'm just the bowler I am today. So, I just try and do as well as I can, and at the same time enjoy it as much as I can.
"We came close in a lot of games. We had a lot of opportunities to close games out, but I guess they just did it better than us. I personally gained a lot from it, a lot of experience, a lot of things I can use for my cricket to get better. And I enjoyed it more than anything else. [India is] one team that I'll always want to play. I loved it."
Under Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum, England have certainly put enjoyment front and centre of the Test experience, and though the tour ended in disappointment with a 4-1 series loss, Rehan played a small but important role in the undisputed high point of the series, the 28-run win in the first Test at Hyderabad.
"I look back and I just can't believe I was part of it," Rehan said, after claiming two first-innings wickets and making 41 runs across his two innings. "I look back as a cricket fan, thinking that was crazy. But then me being part of that makes it even more mad.
"The Karachi win was great. The game at Rawalpindi [against Pakistan in 2022] when I was doing 12th man, that was unbelievable, and Hyderabad was probably the best. That was huge. It's just great. it's something that you wake up every day and it literally makes you happy to have been part of it."
Quite apart from his own precocity, Rehan knows that he has benefitted hugely from playing under the leadership of Stokes, a captain whose willingness to attack the match situation plays into the strengths of his eager young legspinner.
"Stokesy saying 'you're not bowling with a mid-on', I would have thought that's crazy, I don't think any other captain would say that to me," Rehan said. "And to be fair, I'm just like, 'let's do it'. I don't want to bowl with a mid-on, Let's do as much as we can, and force the game on.
"I really enjoy that. I think that's what I enjoyed the most. Sometimes it gets the better of me when I get smacked around, but I don't have a single regret, thinking I could have done this or done that.
"I train at my club and the kids come to me as if I'm, like, the biggest player," he added. "No I'm not, I'm just a normal guy that tries to bowl. All you can do is keep believing in yourself."
Rehan knows, however, that his progress could be thwarted in the coming months by the vagaries of the English season.
"It's April, going to be nipping round corners," he said. "I don't expect to bowl loads of overs because if the seamers are getting wickets, they are getting wickets. The team comes first. But if I know I'm not going to bowl in the day because Wrighty [Chris Wright] will probably get eight-for, I'll just try and bowl as much in the nets as I can."
It's a situation that Jeetan Patel, England's spin-bowling coach, anticipated during the India series, when he pledged to provide coaching support so that his young bowlers wouldn't be left in the lurch while their playing time was limited.
Rehan, however, has an extra string to his bow that he's keen to exploit in the coming months. Having made his maiden first-class century in the final match of the 2022 season, he is focused on securing his place in the Leicestershire side through his batting, and taking his chances with the ball when they come.
"I've not been told anything [about spin coaching]," he said. "I'll be playing county cricket straightaway. Leicestershire comes first when I'm not playing for England. I didn't know if I wanted to play because I wanted a break, but I've had two weeks off and I just want to play again.
"I'd need to see the team balance first," he said, when asked if he expected to be given a top-six role for his county. "It's not a case that I come in and bat where I want. I've not been here all winter, the lads have been working hard so they deserve it first. So if I make the team and I play, then hopefully I'll get a bat."
Whatever arises this season, Rehan's professional career is still enough of a novelty for him to savour all opportunities, no matter where they come. He withdrew from the IPL auction in December in order to manage his time and ensure he was fully prepared for whatever role England might offer him, be it a home Test debut against West Indies in July, or even the T20 World Cup in the Caribbean in June, which follows on from a home white-ball series against Pakistan.
"I want to be ready for England at all times," he said. "I'm not really fussed about what I'm trying to achieve this year. I've tried to do as much as I can within myself. So whether that's me getting my overs in, or me getting as many runs as I can, there's things I really want to work on. If that takes me [to the World Cup], that takes me there, and if it doesn't, and the balance of the teams is not right and whatnot, there are loads of things to take into account."
Another factor in his IPL withdrawal was his desire for family time, which has been all the more important to him of late, especially during the holy month of Ramadan.
"I love family," he said. "I don't want to miss my family time while I'm young. My little brother [England Under-19 offspinner Farhan] has obviously been travelling quite a bit, my older brother has been training a lot, so it feels like we've not really sat together a lot. But for the last two weeks we've shared food with each other every single day. So that's felt special as well, and that's something I love."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket