Oval Invincibles’ Saqib Mahmood aims to continue career rise as Hundred kicks off against former side

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 (ECB via Getty Images)
(ECB via Getty Images)

To the many quirks of the Hundred, add this: bowling the first ball in the history of the men’s competition, in a game between two newly-formed teams, both yet to grace a cricket field, could well be a man facing his former side.

Had the inaugural edition of the ECB’s new tournament taken place as planned 12 months ago, Saqib Mahmood would have been playing for Manchester Originals in the men’s opener on Thursday night, but now finds himself preparing to bowl at them, having joined Oval Invincibles, swapping north for south, black for green and, most importantly, McCoy’s crisps for KP’s nuts.

In keeping with the ruthless nature of franchise cricket, the reason for the switch was largely financial. Mahmood was drafted in the third round of the original draft in 2019, where deals were then worth £75,000, but was taken aback when asked to drop to a lesser tier to keep his spot at Old Trafford for the rearranged tournament.

“I was asked whether I wanted to stay and I was happy to stay at Manchester but the offer they put back at me was lower than it was last year, which I was surprised by,” he tells Standard Sport.

“Considering the other two seamers we had in the Manchester Originals setup were Wayne Parnell and Marchant de Lange, Kolpaks turning into overseas, I was the only seamer.

“There weren't that many great seamers available in county cricket so if anything I thought my value had gone up. I was happy to stay the same but when I found out they wanted to bring me down I just said no after that. I just said I'm leaving, there was no negotiation.”

Mahmood is becoming used to unexpected upheaval.

Only a couple of weeks ago, he was one of those making a dash for Cardiff to answer an unexpected call-up for England’s ODI series against Pakistan, part of an entirely new group of players after Eoin Morgan’s complete first-choice squad had been forced into isolation.

Of the 18 fringe or uncapped players (minus emergency skipper Ben Stokes), none seized their opportunity quite like the young seamer, who took new ball responsibilities and nine wickets across the three games in a player of the series display.

The Lancashire bowler now goes into the Hundred with his standing raised and his reputation enhanced, knocking more firmly than ever on the door of an England side that includes several Oval teammates in Jason Roy, Sam Billings and Sam and Tom Curran.

“You have that little bit of responsibility on your shoulders which is what you want as a player," the 24-year-old adds. “You want to be seen as one of the main guys, rather than just another guy in the XI. There's a good group there so I'm looking forward to getting stuck in with them.”

Manchester’s loss, if it wasn’t clear at the time, is now very obviously the Invincibles’ gain, yet Mahmood insists there is no animosity and that this is not the Hundred’s very first grudge match.

“A lot of the backroom staff at Lancashire are on the backroom staff at Manchester so I've made a few comments, about how I'll kiss the badge and stuff like that!” he laughs. “But it's all fun and games, there's no needle.

“They're not a team I've played for or owe anything to so I think it'll be quite good fun playing against some of my mates that I usually play with at Lancs and seeing them on the opposite coaching team, too.”

One thing the Invincibles and Originals do share is the opportunity and ambition to appeal to their respective local Asian communities.

Mahmood, who is of Pakistani heritage, is acutely aware of the need to engage more with a demographic that remains critically underrepresented within the sport and believes their enthusiasm for the game - and franchise cricket in particular - could be key to making the Hundred a success.

"Hopefully, we'll see a lot of British Asians in stadiums watching, particularly with Pakistan and India over at the back end of the summer,” he says. “You've seen the IPL and the Pakistani crowds, they're almost ridiculous. They're very loud, they love the game, the passion for the game out there is immense. So if we can get something like that into the crowds here that'll be great.”

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