Ahmed came close to the XI for that first Test when left-arm spinner Jack Leach’s participation was thrown into doubt after he was struck down by a virus that infected half the squad. Leach pulled through and, along with the offspin of Joe Root and Will Jacks, has provided the slow-bowling options on two flat pitches.
Stokes’ confirmed England’s team a day out from the final Test, with Ahmed and Foakes replacing Will Jacks and the rested James Anderson. Foakes’ return behind the stumps will allow Ollie Pope to focus on batting at No. 3.
“We’ve been thinking about it,” Stokes said. “We can’t go into too much detail until me and Baz [Brendon McCullum] have had a look at the wicket.
“When we spoke about having Rehan into the squad, it was more than just bringing him in and integrating him into the squad. We did speak about us having no issues with selecting him if we felt it was the right option. I don’t think this is a case of, if he was to play, of giving caps away. We picked him in the squad not just because of his talent, but because we thought it would be a good opportunity to play if we thought it was necessary.”
That opportunity came during the training camp, and McCullum was suitably impressed by both Ahmed’s ability and mentality. Though he did not enjoy the best time with the ball in the England versus England Lions warm-up match, conceding 73 in eight wicketless overs, he provided a snapshot of his pluck with the bat, striking 26 from 10 deliveries for the Lions.
He has continued to make an impression over the last few weeks. And it was instructive that, when asked of what he has made of the youngster, Stokes admitted he isn’t sure which of Ahmed’s two suits is his strongest.
“I’m struggling to work out what he is, whether he’s a batter or a legspinner, which is I guess good, because it shows how much talent he’s got. We got snippets of what he can do with the bat in that warm-up game briefly.
“But having a wrist-spinner is always exciting, especially for England, but it’s not getting too carried away with the potential that he has, because he is only young, and you’ve still got to nurture talent, even how exciting it is.”
It is worth noting that Ahmed will be the first player from a minority background selected under Stokes’ captaincy. All nine XIs selected previously have been exclusively white.
A lack of diversity around the England team is primarily a reflection of issues further down the chain. When asked about the issue, Stokes said he believed cricket was an inclusive sport but acknowledged Ahmed could inspire future generations.
“Whenever I have been asked about this, I have always felt cricket is a very inclusive sport,” he said. “Certainly, in my time in the England team you have been selected on your skills as a cricketer first and foremost. That still should be the way going forward regardless of your beliefs or what you look like or anything like that. If you’re good enough to represent this country, you’re going to get picked.
“Players especially like Rehan, he could be an unbelievable example to set to younger kids who want to come up. They may have maybe heard about what’s happened in cricket recently [but] he can be seen an example of ‘no, we’ve got this 18-year-old hopefully a potential superstar, why can’t I be that?’ But English cricket to me has always been if you’re good enough, you’re going to get selected and I don’t see it being any different going forward.”
*December 16, 08.15 GMT – This story was updated with confirmation of Ahmed’s debut
Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo
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