From Rawalpindi Express to Manchester tram stop: pace ace Shoaib Akhtar spots something speedy at northern terminus

At just 24, Saqib Mahmood has yet to produce a truly breakthrough performance for England in white-ball cricket. Flashes of encouragement have been accompanied by the odd battering at the hands of world-class batsmen.

The wickets of Tim Seifert, Ross Taylor and Colin de Grandhomme in each of three T20Is in New Zealand provided evidence that the brisk Lancashire right armer can be a handful, but an economy rate of more than 11.5 and average of 38.33 shows that, as it so often does with young bowlers, there is much still to learn.

Eight wicketless overs in the tied series against Pakistan last year reined in the scoring a bit, but with the advantage of home Old Trafford surroundings, he will have been be disappointed not to have made more impact. Five ODI wickets in four matches against Ireland and South Africa at an average of 31, might suggest that he is more suited to longer formats.

None the less, Mahmood has the legendary Shoaib Akhtar as both mentor and advocate. Still the bowler of the fastest-ever recorded delivery at 100.3mph, the Rawalpindi Express may have steamed into cricket’s playing terminus for the final time, but he has kept an eye on the man who conducts his business next to a Manchester tram stop. And he considers Mahmood to be just the ticket for England it seems.

Mahmood had claimed 12 wickets in five matches for Peshawar Zalmi before the PSL was suspended, in March, due to multiple Covid-19 cases and was clearly delighted with Akhtar’s interest and explained how it came about.

“He [Shoaib Akhtar] called me just before I flew out and just said that there is still a lot more to come from you so keep working hard and if we ever cross paths, he will pass some pointers onto me,” he told Lancashire’s website. “You know that was nice to hear something like that from someone like him – that’s little bit of recognition.”

Mahmood also shed light on his experience of playing in the PSL and staying in Pakistan.

“I enjoyed the experience because you get in with new players, new team-mates, new coaches, where from the get-go the eyes are on the overseas players,” he said. “So you have got to be on your game. I thrived on the pressure a little bit and I did well out there.

“In terms of facilities everything was good there but we didn’t get to see the country because of Covid so hopefully we will get to do that in the future.”

Born in Birmingham, but raised in in Rochdale, the home of Gracie Fields, and Lisa Stansfield, Mahmood has been very much on-song in the County Championship so far.

Benefitting from bowler-friendly conditions, he has snagged 13 wickets in four matches at an effective 26 each. Blessed with a powerful physique and impressive pace he can move the new ball with conventional swing and seam movement, but perhaps stands out most when reversing the ball later in an innings, as he is regularly clocked at 90mph – qualities possessed in abundance by Shoaib Akhtar’s countryman and Lancashire legend Wasim Akram.

If young Saqib Mahmood can emulate either of them, then Shoaib’s interest will prove to be well-founded and more international honours will follow.