Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98
Saqib Mahmood turned down an offer to become a replacement overseas player in the IPL in order to push his Test credentials by playing for Lancashire in the County Championship.
Mahmood, 25, made his Test debut on England's tour to the Caribbean last month, taking six wickets at 22.83 and impressing with his ability to reverse-swing the old ball. He has also shown glimpses of his skill in his 19 appearances in limited-overs internationals but opted against going to the IPL when an opportunity arose during the series against West Indies.
"I turned down an IPL offer just to be here playing for Lancashire and try to push my red-ball credentials," Mahmood said, speaking at a press day at Emirates Old Trafford. "I got an offer while we were out in the Caribbean and it was a decision I had to make.
"I spoke to a couple of the guys around me and felt as though it was in my best interests at the moment to focus on red-ball cricket. Hopefully that can highlight my ambition to play Test cricket and to give myself the best chance to do that by performing here for Lancashire."
Mahmood declined to reveal which team made him an offer, and said that his decision had been informed in part by a discussion with Ben Stokes, who pulled out of this year's auction following his release by Rajasthan Royals.
"That was my choice," Mahmood said. "It was funny because it came from a conversation I had with Stokesy over breakfast one morning. I got talking to him about why he didn't go to the IPL and he said he wanted to prioritise red-ball cricket and be a part of the squad moving forward.
"It was that same day that I got a call - a coincidence in timing, but for me the timing of that call was great because I had left that morning having had the chat with Stokesy, who would earn millions in the IPL but really wanted to push this team forward. I have that drive as well to try and be a part of that Test team and try to push that forward over the next few months.
"I've had success with England in a white-ball shirt as well but how much I enjoyed myself out in the Caribbean - I have never enjoyed myself that much ever on a cricket field. It was a pretty flat wicket at Barbados… but I just thought the whole experience, and I did take it all in, playing Test cricket - nothing beats it."
ESPNcricinfo understands that Mahmood would have been granted a No-Objection Certificate since he holds a pace-bowling contract with the ECB. There is a cut-off date of February 28 for county-contracted players to sign for IPL teams, which cost Reece Topley the chance to replace Mark Wood at Lucknow Super Giants this season, but centrally-contracted players are exempt.
Mahmood's contract also means that his workload is managed by the ECB, and he has been rested for Lancashire's first Championship game against Kent this week. "If I am involved in that first Test of the summer I would want to be there having got a decent number of overs under my belt - but not be flogged," he said.
It is hard to imagine that he will not be involved after his performances in the Caribbean, where he established himself as England's most promising young seamer. "Over the last couple of years I've been asked a lot of times, 'do you think you are ready for Test cricket?' and it's something you can't really answer until you've actually played," he said. "Having played and the way I went about it, I do feel like that's the level I belong at."
He also insisted that there had not been any awkwardness with his Lancashire team-mate James Anderson, whose omission was a contributing factor in Mahmood's opportunity to make his debut last month. "Jimmy sent me a message when I got picked to congratulate me which was great of him," he said. "Since I've been back here, we've had a great relationship - as we always have had.
"There has been no awkwardness. I was hoping there wouldn't be. It did cross my mind, but he is a professional, he is someone I am good mates with. There is competition but I'd like to think we can both play in the same team as well.
"He is someone I have looked up to my whole career so it would be nice if I can play with him in an England Test shirt this summer. It would be amazing. I'd always thought that I would make my debut alongside Jimmy, so I was hoping that he wouldn't retire just yet and he has kept going. Obviously I didn't make my debut alongside him but hopefully I can play with him this summer."
They may shortly be sharing the new ball in the Championship, a role in which Mahmood wants to continue despite his success at first change for England. "I feel like [in the] long term, I want to be a new-ball bowler," he said. "There will always be chances to bowl with the older ball but you only get one shot at bowling with the new ball.
"I had a lot of success with it last year. I think the thing that sets me apart is my skills with the old ball but sometimes people forget what I can do with that new ball as well - which is something I've also shown with the white ball."