Rehan Ahmed buzzes with all the enthusiasm of a 19-year-old living his dream when he recalls the conversation that led to his first appearance as England’s new ‘Nighthawk.’
‘I don’t know where I got the confidence from,’ said Ahmed of his batting cameo, which included hitting two fours in the last over of the third day, in what used to be called the nightwatchman’s role in the second Test.
‘As we were walking off I went straight to Stokesey and was like ‘let me get the pads on’. I just felt it was a good time to go in and I’ll take any opportunity I get to do that. He let me do it as well so that was cool.’
Time spent with Ahmed before England headed off to Abu Dhabi for their eight-day break with this series against India level at 1-1 is a reminder of the joy to be had as a teenager playing at the very highest level with the total support of his captain. There appears no pressure on Ahmed. Just the encouragement to enjoy himself.
Like his primary role as a leg-spinner who repaid the faith here England have shown in him by playing him in the first two Tests in a country where wrist-spin traditionally struggles to make an impact.
Rehan Ahmed repaid England’s faith by taking six wickets in the second Test against India
The 19-year-old enjoyed a batting cameo, hitting two fours in the last over of the third day
‘I think it’s fair to say I’ve been told to attack,’ said the engaging Ahmed after his six wickets in the second Test defeat. ‘I don’t like bowling maidens because I think they’re boring. I just try to hit the stumps as often as I can.
‘Playing for England is like no other team. They just don’t care about how badly things can go. It’s always about what good you can do. If I bowl four bad balls and get a wicket that’s better than bowling 16 good balls in a row without one.’
The attacking attitude of this highly promising all-rounder that is so well suited to this England team has always been within Ahmed. ‘Since I was young I have always wanted to be an attacking player,’ he said. ‘Kevin Pietersen was my favourite player and I always wanted to smack it with the bat and bowl my leg-spin as fast as I could.’
Such is Ahmed’s obsession with cricket that he might find it hard adhering to England’s plan of plenty of rest and recuperation and very little training in Abu Dhabi. Particularly as he is not a fan of most of the players favourite pastime.
‘I’m not sure why anyone plays golf,’ he said with a grimace. ‘It’s a shocking sport. I hold a golf club like a cricket bat. Rob Key told me to try to smack a golf ball but I completely missed it.
‘But do you know what? I’ve done a bit less shadow batting on this tour. I usually have a bat in my room but so far here I’ve been leaving my bats in the changing room.
‘Instead I’ve been watching this Turkish TV series (Ertugrul). I started it in Pakistan last year and I still have three series of it left. It’s about the Ottaman Empire and by the time I finish it I’ll have forgotten the first part so I’ll start again. I just really enjoy it. I used to watch Prison Break so I was trying to find something else and this is perfect.’
An entertaining half an hour in the company of a cricketer with the world at his feet finishes on a serious note when it comes to the modern understanding within this England team towards players of faith.
Ahmed was the only player to miss England’s training session two days out from the second Test because he was fasting and his confidence in not having to worry about following his Muslim religion on tour comes from the attitude of Stokes.
Ahmed and his team-mates will have a break in Abu Dhabi before resuming Test series in India
The all-rounder shows the same attacking instinct as his boyhood hero Kevin Pietersen
‘My faith is much more important to me than cricket,’ added Ahmed. ‘That’s the first thing in my life and as long as I’m ticking over properly with that I’m fine with whatever happens in cricket. It helps me stay calm on the field. I feel like I’m not under pressure.
‘Mondays and Thursdays in my religion are optional fasting days and it was a light training session anyway so I thought I might as well stay back and fast. It didn’t negatively affect my form. It just helps me and Stokesey is so good with that.
‘There was a time when we were practising in Abu Dhabi before the series when there was a team day out on a Friday. Obviously me and Bash (Shoaib Bashir) were there. I messaged Wayne, our manager, asking if we could miss it because we needed to pray.
‘Stokesey messaged me straightaway and said ‘come to me whenever you want to talk about this kind of stuff, I understand it fully.’ And he’s stuck by his word. Every time I pray he’s so respectful. Everyone is on this tour.’