England’s youngest ever men’s Test player has sensationally announced himself to the cricketing world, producing a game-changing spell to create history and leave Pakistan staring at its worst-ever series defeat on home soil.
Making his debut at 18 years and 126 days old, Rehan Ahmed had Pakistan in a spin on the third day of the third Test in Karachi, claiming three wickets in six overs on his way to 5-48.
He became the youngest ever player to claim a five-wicket haul on Test debut, beating now-Australian captain Pat Cummins, who was 18 years and 193 days when he took 6-79 against South Africa in 2011.
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Rehan curiously was made to wait for 41 overs to be introduced into the attack on Monday, but he had almost an immediate effect.
With a 100-plus run partnership between Babar Azam and Saud Shakeel putting Pakistan in control at 3-164, Rehan removed Babar – albeit via a long-hop delivery the captain smashed in the air and straight to Ollie Pope at mid-wicket to be dismissed for 54.
But it was Rehan’s delivery to Mohammad Rizwan four overs later that had commentators delighted. He forced the Pakistan keeper forward with a delivery that turned just enough to catch the outside edge, with Ben Foakes snaffling a sharp chance behind the stumps to remove Rizwan for seven.
Rehan then removed Shakeel, who was out for 53 after mistiming a sweep shot of a Rehan googly, with the ball ballooning to Jack Leach at square leg to leave Pakistan 6-177 at tea.
The stunning spell had commentators gushing over Rehan.
“The two crucial deliveries for me was the Rizwan nick and the ball after to (Agha) Salman that just went past the outside edge,” Ex-England captain Nasser Hussain told Sky Sports.
“If Rehan can get that ball just to straighten – it doesn’t have to be Shane Warne (style spin) – then the googly and the top spinner become more effective.”
There had been discussion in recent days that Rehan needed to lower his arm when delivering the ball to help him generate more revolutions and spin on the ball. But former England batter Mark Butcher pointed out Indian spin legend Anil Kumble, who sits fourth on the all-time Test wicket-takers list with 619 scalps from 132 matches, rarely turned the ball across his storeyed career.
“He (Kumble) took hundreds of Test match wickets without ripping a leg break,” Butcher told Sky Sports. “You only have to turn it a small amount away from the right-handed batter to make that googly and picking that googly even more important, because (batters) can‘t just play the line for a ball coming back in if the ball can hold and go the other way and you’re not reading it.
“I think he has that ability anyway. It’s just one of those things where we see these people for the first time on the big stage and you go ‘what‘s going to make them the complete package’. For him, the accuracy is going to be the complete package because he has a lot of tools there already.
“If he can get the leg break to turn a bit more, fantastic. If he can‘t, I don’t think it makes a massive amount of difference. He’ll just be a different type of leg spin bowler.
“But one thing that the wrist spinner can do that finger spinners can‘t do – and the reason why teams always want them in these sorts of conditions – is because you can land it on the flat bit and make the ball spin because there’s a lot more revs on it when it comes out spun by the wrist then there is when it’s spun by the fingers.”
Rehan in the final session of the day then dismissed Pakistan debutant Mohammad Wasim, who was caught at mid-off by Ollie Robinson, before Salman was caught by Harry Brook at short fine-leg to complete a momentous five-wicket haul.
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Rehan could hardly wipe the smile off his face as he walked off Karachi Cricket Stadum and held the ball aloft to the crowd. His father was watching on from the grandstand, with his wild clapping and cheering quickly turning to tears of joy.
“He looks like he bowls wicket-taking deliveries, which is a great sign and what you want from leggies in your team,” England champion Stuart Broad told Sky Sports.
“He’s come into the side and the environment – the culture of the England side and the mentality – at the perfect time, because no one is going to be talking abut economy rates or boundaries. They’ll just be talking about wickets.
“He looks like he’s going to be a natural wicket-taker.”
Sky Sports broadcaster Ian Ward declared: “That is the stuff that dreams are made of.”
Pakistan started the fourth day on nearly even footing, with openers Abdullah Shafique and Shan Masood looking set and erasing England’s 50-run lead without the loss of a wicket.
But any optimism was snatched away by England’s methodical spinners.
Leach bowled Shan — attempting an ill-advised reverse sweep — for 24 which brought down the first cluster of wickets.
The visitors had themselves overcome a slow first innings start to post 354 in reply to Pakistan’s first innings 304.
Earlier in the day, top-order stalwart Azhar Ali was denied a fairytale ending to his storeyed career that has spanned 97 Tests and 7,142 runs, dismissed for a duck.
— with AFP
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