While most sport-loving children have to make do with watching their heroes on television, Ahmed’s prodigious youthful talent saw him brushing shoulders with the greats from a tender age.
Invited by the MCC’s head of cricket Steve Kirby to bowl at England’s Test team in the nets at the age of just 11, the leg-spinner left with the wickets of the country’s most prolific run-scorer Sir Alastair Cook and his own future captain, Ben Stokes.
By 13, he had the chance to the show his skills in front of the greatest wrist-spinner the game has seen, leaving Shane Warne marvelling at him and promising to keep tabs on his progress.
That early attention marked him out as a star in the making, a promise he fulfilled in Karachi by taking a stirring five-wicket haul just days after becoming the country’s youngest male Test cricketer.
In an interview in October, when he had still yet to win an official call-up to the tour, he had shown his steely self-belief when asked about the possibility of making a record-breaking appearance.
“When your times comes, your time comes,” he said. “I say to every captain I play for – I’m always ready.”
He was ready when he helped England’s ‘Young Lions’ to the World Cup final in February, ready when handed a Hundred contract by defending champions Southern Brave in the summer and ready enough to register a maiden century and maiden five-for in just his third first-class appearance for Leicestershire in the final game of the season. As the middle son in a cricket-mad family – his brothers Raheem and Farhan have also been involved in the county pathway – he flourished with the support of his taxi driving father Naeem and mother Musrat, playing senior men’s cricket not long after finishing primary school.
Already a promising batter, he briefly dabbled with off-spin before switching to the trickier craft of wrist-spin. In a sign of his readiness for a stiff challenge, he was attracted to the latter by its complexity.
“When I first tried leg-spin it landed in the side of the net. You can never master leg-spin, that’s why I picked it,” he explained. The game enveloped him to the point that all other interests were crowded out. Football has barely raised a flicker of interest and other past-times have scarcely fared any better.
Leicestershire’s director of cricket Claude Henderson said: “He eats, sleeps and breathes cricket. Rehan wouldn’t want to watch a movie, unless maybe it was about cricket.”
His passion immediately registered with Foxes chief executive Sean Jarvis, who sat across the table from Ahmed when he signed his first professional contract at the club.
“We were in the boardroom at Grace Road and I asked Rehan ‘where do you want to go?’. He’s a humble kid, but he said to me ‘I want to play for England as a Leicestershire player’,” Jarvis said. “I’ve been involved in a sport for a long time and every now and again you see someone who has the real eye of the tiger. He most definitely has it.
“From that moment on he was single-minded and focused. The boy is an incredible talent and an absolute sponge for cricket. He’s always listening and learning. With young lads like that everyone wants a piece, but he’s got great people around him and the ECB and Leicestershire are very fatherly towards him.”
Part of that paternal role is plotting a course through the myriad of options professional cricket currently offers. Ahmed’s skills mean he could easily carve out a lucrative and rewarding career on the T20 franchise circuit, a path Somerset’s Will Smeed has already signed up to.
But he freely admits that Test cricket is the real proving ground and the place he wants to cement a legacy.
ECB performance director Mo Bobat revealed recently that he had been “inundated” with white-ball offers and those around Ahmed believe he could have secured a first IPL contract in this month’s auction. But instead of chasing a glamour deal in India he will be wheeling away in April in Division Two of the LV= County Championship, honing his craft.
“He’s in our first team now and we’re privileged to have him. There’s a difference between confidence and arrogance, and Rehan is a lovely, respectful young man,” added Henderson. “I was impressed with him before I’d ever seen him bowl a ball. I liked his passion, his maturity and the way he came across. Then, the first ball he bowled for us in the T20 Blast, he got a wicket and he was the man.
“I’ve met a lot of people who love the game, but this kid adores it.”