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Match Analysis

Matt Fisher makes first mark as Saqib Mahmood bides his time to shine

Promising signs for the future after first glimpse of England's new quicks

Cameron Ponsonby
17-Mar-2022
Matt Fisher took a wicket with his second ball in Test cricket, West Indies vs England, 2nd Test, Kensington Oval, Barbados, 2nd day, March 17, 2022

Matt Fisher took a wicket with his second ball in Test cricket  •  Randy Brooks/AFP via Getty Images

England's new generation of Saqib Mahmood and Matt Fisher have known each other for years. Playing their junior cricket for rival counties Lancashire and Yorkshire, they encountered each other regularly, with one scorecard from an Under-14 game in 2011 reading Fisher 31 (64) b Mahmood.
Eleven years later, they made their debuts together as England players - and almost before they had had time to sample the nerves of their first stint in the field, Fisher was in the thick of the action, with the eventful figures of 0.2-0-4-1.
A Test debut at 24 would be a fast rise to the top for most. But Fisher made his professional debut as a 15-year-old in 2013. He's been playing professional cricket for the last nine years of his life. In that context, his debut switches from being one of a youngster breezing through to the top and instead becomes a long-awaited one.
What's more, that doesn't speak of the pressure that accompanies a debut at 15. Whether you like it or not, from that moment on you're anointed as a future England player. And failure to reach that level will result in murmurs of wasted potential and a place in the pub-quiz annals of the Yorkshire Dales. Alongside the joy, pride, nerves and excitement that Fisher must have felt when he was told of his impending Test debut, you can only imagine a fair element of relief was involved as well. "I've done it."
When Fisher took his wicket - luring John Campbell in the channel outside off, one ball after being steered through third man for four - he did so with an explosion of joy before a sustained release of emotion as he pointed to the sky in memory of his dad, who died shortly before he made his professional debut nine years ago.
Speaking on TalkSPORT 2, Darren Gough mentioned how impressed he'd been with Fisher's maturity, having spent time together at Yorkshire through Gough's role as Interim Managing Director. He spoke of Fisher's clear abilities with the ball but mostly of his abilities as a leader who is able to mix confidence with empathy. Fisher may only be 24, but he's already a seasoned professional who has been through more than most.
"Everyone has something which means something to them," Ben Stokes said at the close, after making his own gesture to his father following his second-day hundred. "It's great to see someone like Fish - he's had a difficult lot of years since his debut at 15 with injuries. To watching a young lad make his debut, bowl well and get his first Test wicket is quite special."
A penny, however, for Mahmood's thoughts when that wicket fell. Joy mixed with a tinge of envy, perhaps? After all, his debut was the one that had been trumpeted in advance, following the decisions to leave out both Ollie Robinson and Mark Wood. Fisher's opportunity only arose on the morning of the match, when Craig Overton also pulled out with illness.
Mahmood's debut has hardly been diluted because of starting alongside Fisher but he does lose the intangible benefit of being the newest kid on the block. The two are different bowlers, one new-ball and one old-, but nevertheless, they've been dragged into a shootout whereas previously Mahmood's rival bowler was unarmed and out of the team.
Mahmood, however, proved with the excitement that he generated in the ODI series against Pakistan last summer that he's unlikely to stay in the shadows for long. His action is 50% Brett Lee and 50% Shoaib Akthar, but his beard is 100% Brad Pitt. To watch Mahmood bowl is exciting. A bowler like Glenn McGrath would impress you over time with relentless accuracy, and a steady realisation that this is what elite performance looks like. But with Mahmood it takes just one ball. What is this? And where can I get more?
His first wicket failed to arrive on Thursday evening but it's surely only a matter of when and not if. Four overs of good pace were delivered in which he conceded just three runs. Mahmood is the fastest bowler in the team, now that Wood is out of action, and though he failed to breach 140kph in his opening gambit, there was at least one occasion when the ball seemed to gather pace through to Ben Foakes behind the stumps, in a way that has not often been seen over the past two days.
"He came in and hit the wicket really hard," Stokes said of Mahmood. "He got a few balls to go off the deck and going through a bit, considering what it was like on day one. I don't want to eat my words here but I can't see [the pitch] getting any better. I think the spinner is in the game and the seamers felt in the game the whole way, so it'll be an exciting day tomorrow."
"Seeing two lads get presented their caps, and being lucky enough to present one of them - I gave Saqqy his cap - there's a lot of great things that can happen and memories that you can create playing international cricket," Stokes added.
"Seeing the excitement on Fisher's face even when he got his cap, his smile was ear to ear for 15 minutes - and then obviously you could see how excited he was when he got his wicket today. It means a lot for him and a lot of other people - family and friends, everyone that has supported him."
After a somewhat false dawn for England's new era in Antigua, circumstances have conspired to unleash the "good young bowling talent" that Andrew Strauss, the interim managing director, had referred to before the series began. And to judge by this most fleeting of first glimpses, it looks likely to be a fun one.

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