Rehan Ahmed’s rise is just the start for England’s youngsters

Rehan Ahmed’s rise is just the start for England’s youngsters

The emergence of Rehan Ahmed in the recent Test of England’s triumphant tour of Pakistan capped off a year as sweet as any in the country’s cricket history.

Ahmed became the youngest player to make a Test debut for England – beating the previous record set by Brian Close, aged just 18 and 149 days, when he played for Freddie Brown’s side against New Zealand in July 1949.

England’s new star-turning-legs star was 23 days younger when he left Karachi and defied expectations less than belief.

Better still, he was a prospect spawned by a county that, if some had their way, would be one of the likely fall-boys if a major overhaul of English domestic cricket ever got the green light.

But the calls for it are getting farther and farther away. Which is hardly surprising, given the cricket game Ben Stokes’ Englishmen have been playing, tails tucked and taunted, since returning from the Caribbean in March.

Ahmed’s Test arc gave him a 7-for-137 match haul. His second-innings totals of 5 for 48 made him the youngest debutant to sack a five-wicket haul in Test history.

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Ahead of the tour, Paul Nixon, his Leicestershire manager, had said there was more than a hint from Shane Warne about the teenager.

Maybe there is, but the Aussie only made his debut for Australia aged 22 – finishing it with the sobering number of 1 for 150 from 45 overs.

No wonder some are calling for Ahmed to be included in England’s plans for next summer’s visit to Australia.

Nixon himself has already come to terms with losing the spinner for large chunks of the County season going forward.

“That’s our job,” he says. “We are there to produce cricketers for the England team. It’s a feather in our cap if we’re able to.”

Leicestershire CEO Sean Jarvis is also incredibly proud of the role the borough has played in harnessing his talent.

“When he was picked for the tour, there was a huge excitement throughout the club,” he says. “It’s been a bit of a year for county cricket but players like Rehan exemplify the talent that the game of county produces.”

Even more remarkable is the fact that in a few years Ahmed may be pushed out of his testing spot by a member of his own family.

Farhan, just 14, is currently part of Nottinghamshire Academy and made his debut for the club’s second eleven this summer. During the 2021 and 2022 season, the precocious off-spinner won a staggering 128 wickets across Notts’ age groups, from Under-14 to the club’s academy.

Earlier this year he was presented with the Sir Jack Hobbs Memorial Prize, awarded annually to the country’s top under-15 cricketer, by the Cricket Society. Not a bad accolade for Rehan’s England cap.

“My father says to me and Raheem [their 19-year-old brother] To take Rehan as a role model, but you also have to make a name for yourself and that’s something I really enjoy doing,” he told the Notts website. “The last two years have definitely felt like progress.

“The achievements have led to rewards – I got accepted into the Academy – and I’m just striving now to get to the next level, it’s pushed me to keep going.

“If I have a good season next year, I want to be in and around the first team on the One Day Cup squad and maybe get a game.”

Rehan was also in Nottinghamshire’s books until the age of 14 when he left Trent Bridge and traveled around the East Midlands. Her older brother literally completes the set. Raheem, now 19, shells left arm seam.

That one family production of talent aside, it’s clear there’s no shortage of skill in either division of a competition first played in 1890.

“Gosh, you guys really put up a fight at the county championship,” says Derbyshire manager Mickey Arthur. “But for me it’s the best domestic tournament in the world – it’s the tournament every foreign player wants to play in.”

He’s not wrong. English cricket has long been regarded as the finishing school for players looking to expand their cricket education.

Counties have sometimes been criticized for getting Australians in shape ahead of an Ashes series, but there’s a feeling this England side can’t hurt when Steve Smith or Travis Head want to catch their eye ahead of the sport’s greatest Rivalry will continue next summer.

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“There is a real excitement in English cricket at the moment,” says Giles White, Hampshire’s Cricket Director. “I think everything that Stokes and [England Test coach Brendon] McCullum has already managed to break into the county game.

“That’s not to say we’re going to see counties play in the same style in the counties championship next summer, but I think the kind of aggressive intent that England have shown will have an impact on how players do in the first class play a game of cricket.”

Even the country’s youngest stars will look to Ahmed’s example and know that they could be offered similar opportunities by running the business at the district level.

Hampshire’s Tom Perst, Somerset’s James Rew and Northamptonshire’s James Sales were all part of the England U19 side alongside the leg spinner who reached the World Cup final earlier this year. And all three have had an impact on their districts in 2022. Their progress continues to be watched with interest by a management regime that adheres to the adage that if you’re good enough, you’re old enough.

This time last year, the County Championship was being demonized left, right and center.

Now, against all odds, it’s no longer seen as part of the problem—but part of the solution.

With a large helping of Ahmed’s help, positive twists are everywhere in the English game.

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