RICHARD GIBSON – INSIDE COUNTY CRICKET: Saqib will strike down and Abbas won’t move for Pep

If you want to get an idea of ​​how long a year in professional sports is, try asking Saqib Mahmood.

On Thursday, he plays for Lancashire against Somerset at Taunton, his first County Championship appearance since the corresponding week of the 2022 season.

Forget the extraordinary things England have done in the meantime and consider that when fast bowler Mahmood started experiencing back discomfort against Gloucestershire last April, a test shirt was in his possession, having proved a rare beacon in an otherwise desolate tour of the Caribbean. the preceding month.

Before being diagnosed with the stress fracture that would keep him out of contention for the summer from Baz, he received a phone call from new captain Ben Stokes explaining what was needed in County action after that six-week start. wickets in two tests under 23. runs each against the West Indies.

“I had my chance on some pretty docile wickets there, and I was happy in myself that I showed a lot of resilience and came back,” Mahmood said.

Bowler Saqib Mahmood impressed on Caribbean tour before injuring his back

Bowler Saqib Mahmood impressed on Caribbean tour before injuring his back

“That’s what the test of cricket is ultimately about – being able to do it day after day, spell after spell. It was the one thing I was really proud of and I felt really at home at that level, and on those wickets I felt tough.

As Mahmood points out, a player “can feel quite isolated” when injuries strike, but it’s a sign of the health of England’s current environment that Stokes invited him into the dressing room during the Manchester test last year, and he says so. felt like he hadn’t been absent when he returned to the limited squads last winter.

Wet weather here has subsequently delayed his return to top-class action by a week and he starts 2023 several stages behind square one as a result, as he tries to become a figure in the English equation of ashes.

Ironically, the elements might hinder him further. In a hot, dry summer, Mahmood’s reverse swing skills would move him a notch or two higher in a pecking order that starts with Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad and Ollie Robinson, has Chris Woakes in reserve, plus ingredients. of rhythm of Jofra Archer, Mark Wood and Olly Stone, depending on the physical condition.

Although he is an effective new-ball bowler, he does not possess the US or career records of his traditional rivals, and while approaching 90 miles per hour, he does not make it to the other side of this line as often as the X factor. trio.

“I feel like I can do whatever the captain needs, but maybe not at the level of the other guys,” adds Mahmood, who worked on raising his trajectory at a camp in Barbados with Archer before Christmas.

“But to be honest I feel like I’m a better bowler than I was, the time out has allowed me to become more skilled and I want to be someone they have to choose.

“In my head now I feel like I have to perform at this level to have a chance to do so. There can be no rust, I have to start right away.

Abbas won’t move for Guardiola

His exceptional consistency meant Mohammad Abbas’s Hampshire team-mates had given him superstar status long ago – but he’s been taken to another level as he enters a third season with the club.

Part of the Pakistan international’s deal at the Ageas Bowl is accommodation in the Hilton’s premier penthouse suite which overlooks the ground, and he’s clearly not budging for anyone – including sporting royalty like Pep Guardiola.

Premier League teams tend to stay in hotels for away matches at Southampton, and champions Manchester City requested the use of this particular suite for their manager earlier this month, to be postponed due to the presence of the foreign player from Hampshire.

The joke going around the Hampshire dressing room is that Guardiola was told to take another play not because of Abbas’ generally prolific form with the ball – he started the season with six wickets against Nottinghamshire and Surrey – but due to the fact the hotel operations manager is an Arsenal fan!

Mohammad Abbas refused to leave his penthouse suite for Pep Guardiola

Mohammad Abbas refused to leave his penthouse suite for Pep Guardiola

Mohammad Abbas refused to leave his penthouse suite for Pep Guardiola

ONE TO WATCH: Jack Haynes

This is already shaping up to be a pivotal period in the career of the young Worcestershire batsman.

A hundred to his name in the second-round defeat at Durham – to add to the three he scored in a personal return to the 2022 Championship from 811 runs at 47.7 – made him the top scorer among the qualified players in England in division two.

At 22, he is already on the national radar, having spent two spells with the Lions of England last winter, working with Ian Bell in the process.

Pleasing to the eye, it also displays an acknowledgment that the art of batting is as much about substance as style.

He also has a good mentor. His father Gavin served County as an all-around player in the 1990s and continues to coach him – officially in recent months when Haynes senior was seconded from Worcestershire to replace Kadeer Ali on England Under-19 duty.

Worryingly, for New Road supporters, however, Haynes is out of contract this year and the big clubs will no doubt be turning in June when offers for 2024 and beyond can be made to free agents.

The prolific pope stands out

Ollie Pope’s love for the comforts of home continues unabated: his brilliant second innings to turn a hard-fought game against Hampshire into a cakewalk took his tally to 11 in first-class cricket at the Kia Oval.

England’s No. 3 from Surrey has just six elsewhere and averages a Bradman-style 96 at his county seat, making him an anomaly among modern players.

Not so good news for hitters north of the Thames, though. Things have barely improved for top-tier Middlesex since they fell to 4-4 against Essex in their opening Division One legs.

Ollie Pope scored 11 centuries at the Kia Oval and averaged a Bradman-esque 96

Ollie Pope scored 11 centuries at the Kia Oval and averaged a Bradman-esque 96

After three visits to the crease, Sam Robson averaged 2.33; Mark Stoneman 1; and Pieter Malan 2. And after losing a bowler-dominated contest with Northamptonshire, the trio had still failed to push their personal bests into double digits.

Meanwhile, Northamptonshire will have to look elsewhere for a pace setter next month after Australian Lance Morris was ruled out of his stint with a back injury.

Cricket Australia have ordered Western Australia to spend the next four to six weeks ‘unloading’ after a problem developed during the end of the Sheffield Shield season spread on the eve of the selection of Ashes.

Morris was due to take over fast bowling duties at Wantage Road from compatriot Chris Tremain, who took an impressive 13 wickets in the first two of his three scheduled games.

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