A gradual but inevitable descent into cricket-based loathing and bile.

Whatever Happened To The Unlikely Lads? #4: Saj Mahmood

Posted on December 5, 2011 by in Opinion


In between forgetting to write previews for major Test matches and attempting to steal wine from the Australian Direct Marketing Association, the 51allout collective often find themselves trying to explain cricket to the various Mrs 51allouts, with differing levels of success. One such attempt to educate the fairer sex saw a trip to watch Western Australia play T20 at the WACA early this year.

WA were put to the sword by South Australia, conceding more than 200 runs before hopelessly failing to chase it down. The lowest point of this particular drubbing came in the form of a two over spell from one particular bowler that went for 39 runs, including finishing with the impressive sequence of six/wide/six (off a no ball)/six (off the free hit).

And which silver-haired lothario delivered this fine spell? It could only be

#4: Sajid Iqbal Mahmood

We’ve probably talked about the 2005 Ashes more than anybody else in the world. Not a moment goes by without us reminiscing about Simon Jones reversing the ball around corners, Ashley Giles flicking the winning runs through the leg side or Gary Pratt running Ricky Ponting out. Should the conversation dry up it’ll only be a matter of seconds before someone breaks the silence with a shout of Jones! Bowden! It’s no wonder that our neighbours regularly steal our post.

And yet, that fantastic series marked the end of an era. Injuries quickly began to work their way through the bowlers, leaving England to look for the next generation of quicks. Alongside Liam Plunkett, Saj Mahmood was that next generation. As generations go, it wasn’t a great one.

While Plunkett was the sort of medium-fast seamer that does well in English conditions (think Munton, Tim), Saj was supposed to be the genuine article: tall, strong, fast and able to move the ball at pace. Plus with a deceptive slower-ball bouncer. Deceptive in terms of how useless it was. In Saj’s hands it often looked like an accident, as if the ball was stuck in his grasp at the point of release.

Six runs! Well played batsman!

Following a pre-emptive call up to the ODI side in 2004 for a single game against New Zealand where he took no wickets and conceded eight an over, 2006 was Mahmood’s real opportunity. After a promising start (including not playing in the infamous match at Headingley where Sri Lanka chased down 321 with more than twelve overs to spare) Saj’s inconsistency quickly came to the fore. Five wickets on Test debut were followed by just two more in the next two matches. Another good match against Pakistan (6/130) preceded a match that was completely overshadowed by Pakistan’s refusal to play after being punished for ball-tampering. We’ll save a discussion of that incident for another day.

Regardless, it left Mahmood in pole position to play in that winter’s Ashes in Australia. And yet he fell victim to Duncan Fletcher’s bizarre (possibly gin-assisted) selection policy, being left out (along with Monty Panesar) in favour of Jimmy Anderson, who took 1/191 at Brisbane and 1/108 at Adelaide. Common sense prevailed for the third test with Mahmood being brought back in. He promptly went wicketless for the match and eventually finished the series with just five wickets at 52.80. (We had to look those numbers up – Duncan Fletcher wasn’t the only one using gin to get through that series)

By this point, the penny had dropped: Saj Mahmood just wasn’t good enough for Test cricket. By the following summer England had moved on (or at least sideways – Liam Plunkett was back into the attack) and Mahmood was never seen again. The likes of Graham Onions, Stuart Broad and the living legend that is Amjad Khan made their cases over the next few years and that was that, at least for Test cricket.

Mahmood might well claim that he’s always been primarily a one-day bowler. His frightening economy rate in ODIs (5.85) rather puts the mocker on that. Just seven maiden overs in 26 matches tells the same story. Oddly enough, one of those 26 matches came in South Africa in 2009, two years after his previous appearance.

So what was left after that? Luckily for Saj, the greatest honour of them all awaited: becoming one of those players that we talk about endlessly, in a delightfully ironic fashion. So much so that even Mrs 51allout knows who he is. And isn’t that what it’s all really about?

The answer is no, obviously.

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