England bowler Saqib Mahmood is back with a red ball in his hand and plans to speak to Ben Stokes as he looks to nail down a role in the Test side.
Mahmood made a highly encouraging Test debut in the West Indies 13 months ago, impressing on two docile pitches in the final days of Joe Root’s captaincy, but suffered a stress fracture shortly afterwards and has not played first-class cricket in a year.
Having returned to the international fray during last month’s ODI tour of Bangladesh he is back in action as he captains Lancashire’s second XI at Southport this week, with a view to making his LV= Insurance County Championship comeback against Somerset on April 20.
The queue of fast bowlers has lengthened during Mahmood’s injury absence but with a packed Ashes summer there is no shortage of work ahead for the pace pack. The 26-year-old has worked hard to get his fitness back and is now hoping to catch the ear of the Test skipper and find out exactly how he fits into the jigsaw.
“When I get back to bowling I’d like to think what I do should speak volumes, but I will probably ask questions about roles at some point when I feel ready, so there’s more clarity, ” he said.
“I’ve worked with Stokesy in the past and he knows me quite well. He spoke to me last year about what he’d expect of me so I could put it in place in county cricket, but I had a stress fracture at the time and nobody knew. I suppose it’s similar now.
“You have taller bowlers like Stuart Broad and Ollie Robinson, skilful bowlers like Jimmy Anderson and Chris Woakes, then quick bowlers with Jofra Archer and Mark Wood.
“For me something which is a strength can also be a little bit of a weakness, because I can sort of do all of those things. I’m not as quick as Jof or Woody, but I can run in and bowl quick; I feel I’m skilful and accurate but I won’t be as good as Jimmy or Woakesy.
“I feel can do all of what the captain requires but perhaps not to the levels the other guys are. So it’s hard to judge where I am in the pecking order.”
While Mahmood’s assessment may be verging on the self-critical – he has 80 first-class wickets in 28 matches and an average of 27.27 – he does identify his ability to find reverse swing later in the innings as an ace up his sleeve.
“I showed I can do that in Barbados and one of my strengths is bowling with that older ball on day three, day four in county cricket.”
He also feels that the prolonged lay-off has had a beneficial effect on sharpening up some aspects of his game.
“When I’ve got a red ball in my hand now, I feel strong,” he said.
“It’s coming out as well as it has ever done. I felt at home at Test level, even on those West Indian wickets I felt I was challenging (batters), but the way things have gone recently I feel like a better bowler than I was. When you have time to work on certain things you definitely feel more skilful.
“Now it’s just a case of playing games, do it with the new ball, then do it with the old ball as well. That’s the kind of thing I want to put in place, to be someone they almost have to pick. That’s my mindset.
“Whether I get picked or not is a different story, all I can do is get ready and put in performances for Lancashire.”