Saqib Mahmood is hopeful some modifications to his bowling action during an extended period on the sidelines will make him better than he was before a long injury lay-off.
The Lancashire quick is in line for his first England appearance in nearly a year in their ODI series against Bangladesh, which starts on Wednesday in Dhaka, after recovering from a lumbar stress fracture.
While understandably forlorn after the initial diagnosis, Mahmood used the rehabilitation to reduce his run-up by a couple of paces as well as shift his alignment when loading up at the crease slightly.
There have been moments of uncertainty but, by and large, the 26-year-old is confident the tweaks will stand up to the rigours of international cricket in an Ashes and World Cup year for England.
“I feel very grateful after what’s happened over the last year, I’m happy to be back playing cricket,” he said. “When you know it’s going to be a long time out, you just think about all the cricket you’re going to miss – the first Test match at Lord’s (last June), the T20 World Cup and all of that.
“There’s nothing that anyone is going to say to you in the first week that is going to make you feel better, so I just tried to just distract myself from what was going on and try and keep myself busy.
“Throughout the process, I’ve had days where I’ve felt better than the bowler I was and then sometimes it only takes one bad session and you start to have doubts. I’d like to think over time I’ll be a better bowler for the time I’ve had to work on things and improve.
“When we play this tour, people will make a judgement within the first six balls of whether I’m the same or not. I’m just trying to focus on what I can do. Hopefully I am a better bowler after this.”
Mahmood was one of the rare positives in a humbling Test tour of the West Indies last March, which proved a watershed moment for English cricket as Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes were appointed as head coach and captain respectively.
The pair have overseen a remarkable transformation so it is little wonder Mahmood has his sights set on breaking back into the buccaneering Test set-up – even if he knows that is easier said than done.
But Stokes recently revealed he wanted eight fit seamers for this summer’s Ashes and Mahmood is keen to make an irresistible case when he returns to red-ball action in the County Championship in the spring.
“Red-ball cricket feels a long way away, just with getting back into cricket,” he said. “There’s five County Championship games (before England start their summer schedule), hopefully I’ll play three or four to really stake my claim again for the Ashes.
“The Test squad at the moment looks a very tough one to break in to but all I can do is what I can control and that’s getting the ball back in hand for Lancashire and really performing.”
Mahmood has fond memories of working under Stokes. The paceman was player of the series with nine wickets in a 3-0 clean sweep of Pakistan in 2021 after Stokes was parachuted in to lead a shadow side when the entire first-team squad had to self-isolate following a Covid outbreak.
“In the short time I worked with Stokesy a couple of years ago, it really suited my game,” Mahmood added. “We’d have four slips in in the middle of an ODI.
“I haven’t really spoken to Ben (recently). Those conversations will happen in due course, when I start feeling closer and when I start feeling ready.
“Hopefully before the season, I can give him a call, more so just knowing what he’d want from me if I was to break into the team.”