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07 February 201621:25 By Sidhanta Patnaik, Mirpur

Mahmood, Burnham driven by a common goal

Their tastes and backgrounds are vastly different, but the dynamic English duo is inspired by the same ambition

Mahmood, Burnham driven by a common goal - Cricket News
Just before logging off on Saturday (February 6) night, Saqib Mahmood urged fans back in England on twitter to set their alarm for 3 am so that they could wake up in time to catch the ICC Under-19 World Cup 2016 quarter-final clash between England U19 and Sri Lanka U19 at the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium in Mirpur on Sunday.

Unbeaten in three group games, Mahmood was confident of his team’s chances, but as it turned out, Sri Lanka’s strong spin attack was too hot to handle. England was bowled out for 184 in 49.2 overs, before Sri Lanka chased down the target in 35.4 overs with six wickets in hand.

England will now compete for the fifth-place play-off, but the exit from the title race can’t overshadow how well Mahmood has bowled in the tournament, of which he is the top wicket-taker thus far with 12 victims at an average of 10.25.

Yes, figures of 3 for 2 came against Fiji and the two four-wicket hauls were against Zimbabwe and West Indies, two teams who have not been at their best in recent times. But take the opposition out of the equation and look out for videos on the internet of Mahmood’s bowling. His channel of attack in the sub-continent, where pace bowlers have not always had the best results, speaks volumes of his consistency.

Mahmood, who has already played Twenty20 cricket for Lancashire, credited his success to Stuart Barnes, the team’s bowling coach with prior knowledge of the local conditions, having toured here with England Lions in the past.

“(Barnes) told us which area is the most effective for a seamer before we came here, and I just practiced that and hoped that the odd ball did something off the seam or naturally,” said Mahmood. “It’s been successful because I have been asking questions, and I think also because my partner at the other end (Sam Curran) does the same thing. He has been creating pressure for me to take wickets.

“The one I bowled the best was the spell against Zimbabwe because I swung the ball late and got good pace, which I am good at,” he added. “Whereas, I think, against West Indies, the spell in which I took four wickets was the best because it was a better team.”

Mahmood’s strike-rate of 15.10 is the best among all bowlers to have bowled at least eight overs in the competition, meaning he has been good both with the new ball and old. His economy of 4.05 is par for the course.

That the show for Mahmood, who has a smooth action and has bowled in the mid-130 kmph range through the tournament, has been complete is an indication of his bowling intelligence.

“Once the batsman has seen past the new ball, when the ball is not doing a great deal you have to rely on change of pace. Variations make it hard for the batsman to score,” he explained his thought process as a bowler in the sub-continent. “It’s really not length, but it’s more line out here because you can’t give width to the batsman as he will throw his hands at the ball then. Instead, if you are attacking the stump always, it’s definitely harder to score and that’s what have I have been doing. I have been wickets because of my consistency of bowling at the line of the stumps.”

Brad Taylor, the England captain, was all praise for his premier bowler. “Saqib has been brilliant in this tournament with the lengths he hits early on. He gets a beautiful shape away from the batsman.”

Part of the England Development Programme for more than three years now, Mahmood grew up watching Brett Lee and Shoaib Akthar “just because they used to bowl fast”. He has spoken to James Anderson in the county nets on “variations, reverse swing and using the crease”. An admirer of Dale Steyn, he spends a lot of time off the field watching Youtube clips of different fast bowlers. He believes that the lessons learnt bowling with the white ball in the World Cup will hasten his pursuit of playing red-ball cricket at the senior level.

Aware of the extensive load ahead if he remains consistent, Mahmood has already started working towards an injury-free career.

“We have been looking after that for the last couple of years. The physio helps us out, telling us what’s good and what’s bad,” he said. “I am definitely aware it’s going to be hard and tough on my body. So, when I was in the gym in the winter, I really worked hard so that it pays off during the season.”

While Mahmood follows Liverpool, Jack Burnham vouches for Newcastle United and Alan Shearer. In their English Premier League face-off in December last year, Liverpool beat Newcastle 2-0. Football club loyalty apart, the two have some other dissimilarities.

Mahmood is well spoken and media-savvy, Burnham is shy and prefers to keep his answers short. Mahmood is of Asian origin; Burnham is from a small village in Durham.

The football rivalry and varying backgrounds have not hindered the pair from teaming up for the country’s cause.

Like Mahmood, Burnham has been in terrific form in the tournament, topping the run-charts with a tally of 309 runs in four matches. Though Burnham was one of the victims of spin against Sri Lanka, his average of 103 and a strike-rate of 97.47 have separated him from the rest.

Burnham felt a couple of tours to the sub-continent with Durham in the past helped him hit form right from the first game, when he made 148 against Fiji and shared the highest-ever stand in the history of Youth One-Day Internationals of 303 with Dan Lawrence, who has been another highlight in England’s campaign.

“In this tournament, I am just sticking to my strength and playing straight as much as possible,” Burnham said in his heavy accent. “I would say it’s easy for me because there is not much bounce here. I preferably get forward, so the conditions suit my style of batting.

“My strengths are driving down the ground and rotating the strike. I can hit the ball hard when I play straight,” he added. “I have got cuts and pulls as well but don’t get to play them out here.”

The only batsman to have scored two centuries in the tournament so far, Burnham, a tall lad with four first-class matches under his belt, has picked up an important message from Ben Stokes, his county-mate.

“Ben said the more confident you are, the more of a chance you give yourself before you go out to bat,” Burnham said of his interaction with Stokes. “If you have self-confidence, then there is no doubt you have given yourself the best possible chance.”

Anderson to Mahmood. Stokes to Burnham. Fans would hope that the benefit of the knowledge-transfer system brings rewards for English cricket in the future.