Last December, Naeem Ahmed saw his son Rehan become the youngest player to make an England Test debut. At 18 years and 128 days, Rehan received the cap from former skipper Nasser Hussain in Karachi, and his father was in the England huddle to witness the memorable occasion.
A year later, Naeem, who hails from Mirpur in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, may have another reason to celebrate as his youngest son Farhan, 15, is expected to be named in the England Under-19 World Cup squad.
“As a father, I am over the moon,” Naeem tells The Indian Express from Antigua.
Naeem has got used to travelling around the world to watch his sons’ exploits first-hand. He spent a month in India when Farhan was playing a quadrangular series for England U-19 in Vijayawada.
“I have become a globe-trotter because of them. Last month, I was in Vijayawada, watching Farhan play for England U-19. A week later, I am in the Caribbean, watching Rehan playing for England. The cricketer in me is satisfied, the father in me is happy but the coach and mentor wants them to double their hard work,” says Naeem.
Farhan picked up five wickets in four outings in the Quadrangular series.
“He is a modern-day off-spinner. He keeps it tight. He is only 15 now, so it’s hard to say what’s in the future, but I think he will only get better. I have told him to enjoy it, it was the same thing I told Rehan when he made his international debut. At this age, he should play without any pressure,” the proud father adds.
Naeem, a budding cricketer in his late teens, moved to Nottingham from Pakistan in 2001 with his newly-wed wife Musrat Hussain in search of a better life. He drove a taxi to make ends meet, and his sole aim was to give their three sons – Raheem, Rehan and Farhan – a better life.
“I wanted to be a fast bowling all-rounder. I played till club level before moving to England, but never pushed my sons to play cricket. Raheem and Rehan are in the same age-group. Our home became a little playground. I am a cricket tragic and would also join them sometimes,” laughs Naeem.
Despite having two England players in the family, Naeem feels his firstborn, Raheem, is the most talented and could have played for England U-19 in the World Cup with Rehan if not for a stress fracture.
“I can’t compare my three sons but I feel Naeem was really good: a left-arm quick, a useful batsman down the order. He suffered a stress fracture at the age of 16, which kind of derailed his progress. Otherwise, I am sure, he would have played the U-19 World Cup in 2022. But he is making his comeback, and is now in the Nottinghamshire 2nd XI. I am sure you will hear his name in the future as well,” Naeem says. “Raheem is a left-arm pacer but loves Shoaib Akhtar. He has a bit of Shoaib in him as well.”
Looking back, he considers Rehan receiving his Test cap from Hussain in Karachi last year as “an emotional moment”.
“Rehan was always on the radar of the England selectors. He had been lauded by his idol Shane Warne, but at that moment in Karachi, I felt everything froze.”
“In his first spell, he got a taste of international cricket. He gave away 37 runs in five overs and had to wait for 17 overs for his first Test wicket, Saud Shakeel. In the second innings, he bagged a fifer and ran through Pakistan’s middle order, including Babar Azam,” says Naeem.
Rehan had attracted attention at just 11, when he dismissed Ben Stokes and Alastair Cook in the England nets. Later, he received high praise from Warne when the legend saw him bowling in the nets at Lord’s.
“That’s awesome man, really really good, I’m going to keep a close eye on you. I think we’re going to be commentating on you really soon. I think you’ll be playing first-class cricket by the age of 15,” Warne had said.
In 2016, Rehan was bowling at the Nottinghamshire nets when former Pakistan leg-spinner Mushtaq Ahmed, who was strolling by, stopped to watch him bowl.
Naeem says that Warne’s words still echo in his ears. “The way he spoke to Rehan and told him that he would be keeping an eye on him made me think that if Shane Warne thinks this, there is something special in Rehan,’” he says.
Rehan was the pick of England’s bowlers during their defeat to the West Indies in the first ODI, claiming 2 for 40 in his 10 overs. Ahmed is known for his googlies and leg-breaks, which spin sharply both ways.
Rehan could take another step in his rapid ascent if he gets an IPL contract. He went unsold the last time but is likely to be on the radars of a few franchises this time.
“I want all three of my sons to play in the IPL. For me, it is not about money. Playing in that league, sharing a dressing room with the world’s best and training with them will make Rehan a better cricketer,” he says.