Saqib Mahmood, the young England seamer, would “look forward” to using a Kookaburra ball in County Championship fixtures if a round of games with the ball was introduced.
Mahmood, who made his T20I debut on England’s New Zealand tour at the end of last year and was an unused member of the Test squad, said that he had “made good strides” learning how to bowl with a Kookaburra in the nets, and suggested that using the ball instead of a Dukes in domestic cricket would “bring in a different skillset to be successful with”.
While there are no plans to introduce a round of games with a Kookaburra ball for the 2020 Championship season, it was discussed as an idea by the ECB’s cricket committee at the end of last year, and Ashley Giles, the managing director of England cricket, has described it as “an issue we should get our head around”.
“It helps playing [home games] at Old Trafford,” Mahmood said at an England Lions training camp, “but if it did come across I’d look forward to it. It would bring in a different skillset to be successful with, rather than bowling a few dibbly-dobblies.
“If we had that in the Championship for a couple of rounds, how would teams react? What kind of bowlers would they pick? Guys who haven’t had a look-in might start to get a look-in – teams will have to find a way to take 20 wickets.”
Mahmood emphasised the difference in how the two balls behave with an example from the nets in New Zealand, when Paul Collingwood, one of England’s assistant coaches, bowled to him with both.
“I had Colly bowl to me with a Dukes in New Zealand and I couldn’t hit it,” he said, “then when he had the Kookaburra it was a different ball game.”
While he bowls at good pace by English standards, Mahmood has attracted attention in his fledgling career primarily due to his ability to make the ball reverse-swing, shining in last season’s One-Day Cup as one of the few bowlers able to make the white ball move off the straight at the end of an innings.
“Reverse swing is something which I can use as one of my strengths away from England and with the Kookaburra. It’s also [about] practising new skills for unresponsive pitches”
He is set to make his ODI debut in South Africa next week, and was a late addition to the T20I squad as a replacement for the injured Jofra Archer. Following that series, he will travel to Australia to join up with the England Lions squad in time for the final two red-ball games of their tour, games in which he will hope to impress with half an eye on the 2021-22 Ashes series.
Although Mahmood did not come close to a Test debut in New Zealand, he is sufficiently highly regarded by the ECB that he has become one of three seamers – along with Olly Stone and Craig Overton – handed a pace-bowling development contract, which will see him work closely with the England set-up in an attempt to help his progress.
“I wasn’t involved in [the first Test at] Mount Maunganui,” he said, “so it was a case of watching how the New Zealand guys bowled – I was watching quite closely, seeing the fields they have, the tactics… looking how to bowl outside of England and with a Kookaburra.
“I’d watch, then go into the nets, try things, and very quick I was picking up on reverse swing. That’s something which I can use as one of my strengths away from England and with the Kookaburra. It’s also [about] practising new skills for unresponsive pitches.
“It was learning how best I can use [the Kookaburra]. I found in the nets if I bowled seam upright, it looked nice and pretty but I didn’t think I was very effective. So it was [a case of] pitching the ball up a bit, bringing both edges into the game. The ball I try to swing is the variation, rather than the stock ball as it is in England.”
Mahmood also heralded Darren Gough‘s work as a short-term bowling consultant in New Zealand, where he spent two weeks with the England squad ahead of the Test series. He had developed a bad habit in his run-up during the T20I series, which had gone unnoticed, but Gough’s “fresh set of eyes” spotted the problem almost immediately.
“As soon as I put that back into my training I felt good again and thought ‘God, I wish someone had told me this two weeks ago’,” he said. “Exposure to high-pressure situations can do things: you start to try harder and that can have a backward effect.
“It was really good, because I obviously get reverse when I bowl but I wouldn’t know how to go about it as best as I could before I worked with Goughie. He told me how much he practised it, which I was nowhere near.
“When you’re trying to reverse swing a ball back into a right-hander, your mind is telling you to push the ball, but you don’t want to do that. As easy as it sounds, it does take a while to get used to it. By the end of the trip I was doing ten balls at the end of every session and I actually got pretty good. I made good strides.”