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Ben Stokes believes England’s breakout bowling star Saqib Mahmood will force some more established stars to “look over their shoulder” after his stunning form against Pakistan.
When Eoin Morgan’s first-choice ODI squad was sent into isolation ahead of the series, Mahmood was one of the more experienced options available to head coach Chris Silverwood and found himself leading a novice attack despite owning just four caps himself.
But he has since stood tall at Cardiff and Lord’s, claiming four for 42 and two for 21 while dismissing the world’s number one 50-over batsman Babar Azam on both occasions.
One more strong performance at Edgbaston on Tuesday, when England will look to sweep the series 3-0, will only increase his rapidly rising stock and could see him rocket up the pecking order.
“With the squad getting wiped out, the one positive was that we could see guys come who have been on the fringe and, for Saqi, coming in and being the senior bowler has done him the world of good,” said Stokes.
“He hasn’t been fazed by anything, he’s been taking the new ball and I’ve asked him to come back on at crucial times in games where he’s performed really well.
“So from an individual point of view it’s done him the world of good and from an England point of view, it’s another player that lads will have to look over their shoulder for.
“Saqi seems to always want the ball in his hands…he loves every minute of it. He loves to be in those situations where he’s expected to be the man to change a game and he’s done it every time he’s bowled for me this series.
“Competition for places is always a great thing to have at any level so when you get a complete new squad and they have put in such performances, that really adds to the expectation that gets put on to the main guys’ shoulders when they come back.”
While Stokes has enjoyed his time in charge of a mix-and-match squad plucked from the county game, the circumstances of the series make for longer term worries.
Had he been fully fit following finger surgery he would have been among the senior men in quarantine, rather than rushing back to lead an emergency get together.
And with the LV= Insurance County Championship match between Essex and Derbyshire abandoned on Monday due to coronavirus, it is clear that further setbacks could be around the corner.
County cricket has seen several outbreaks and with the inaugural season of The Hundred due to launch in just two weeks, there are growing concerns over the competition.
Should England’s Test stars be free, as planned, to play alongside their franchise team-mates, it could ultimately threaten their availability for August’s flagship Test series against India.
Given their importance to the marketing of the tournament, that would be a major blow to the England and Wales Cricket Board and Stokes realises the difficulty behind that decision.
“It would be very frustrating to not be able to participate in that, a massive event for England, and we want to be part of it,” he said.
“We know how big a role players play in making a franchise competition big and if the Test players were unable to play in it because of Covid that would be pretty devastating.”