Saqib Mahmood admitted he was still wrapping his head around an unexpected England recall when he bowled an emergency XI to a crushing victory over Pakistan.
When a Covid outbreak forced England to send their entire one-day squad into quarantine and assemble another at breakneck speed, the Lancashire paceman was one of the first names on a hastily revised teamsheet.
He had not played for his country since last September but his previous high standing and his fine form for Lancashire this season meant he was trusted to set the tone for an unfamiliar XI in Cardiff on Thursday.
He responded in grand fashion, removing Imam-ul-Haq and star batsman Babar Azam in the first over of the Royal London Series opener on his way to career-best figures of four for 42.
Pakistan never recovered, eventually tumbling to 141 all out, with Dawid Malan and debutant Zak Crawley posting unbeaten half-centuries to seal a ruthlessly efficient nine-wicket success. In all 67.1 overs of the scheduled 100 were required.
The result was surprising, the margin astonishing and the circumstances barely believable, with Mahmood admitting he was in the midst of a whirlwind.
“I got the call on Tuesday, it was completely out of the blue,” he said.
“I woke up with a missed call off Spoons (head coach Chris Silverwood) and a message saying, ‘text me when you see this’. I started the morning in Manchester and ended up in Cardiff.
“I guess the fact it all happened so quickly and there was less time to train was better than obsessing over your skills a little bit.”
England handed out five new caps – to Crawley, Phil Salt, Lewis Gregory, John Simpson and Brydon Carse – while Mahmood joined the likes of Dawid Malan, Matt Parkinson and Craig Overton with just a handful of appearances between them.
It required captain Ben Stokes, who rushed his recovery from a finger operation to lead the side, to put the group at ease – welcoming them aboard with a call to believe in their ability. Mahmood, for one, took those words to heart.
“‘The message we’ve had was something Stokesy reiterated last night after training, that, yes, it is weird circumstances but at this given time everyone here deserves their place,” he said.
“Everyone here is the best player for the position they’re in. I always thrive in whatever team I play for when I’ve got that extra responsibility. Speaking to Stokesy, I knew he wanted me to take the new ball and when we were out there, he brought me on when we needed wickets. I’m just glad I was able to back it up and make the most of that responsibility.”
Stokes, who gave himself a single over and was not needed with the bat, was a satisfied skipper at the close but warned it would not always be so simple.
“When you get any new group of players together you are always striving for that team performance,” he said.
“I just said to them to go out and do what they had been doing for their counties and enjoy the situation that we found ourselves in. Something like today is a massive boost but we do need to keep in mind that we weren’t put under any pressure and I’ve got no doubt that we will at some point. We’ll remember that not every game of cricket will go that smoothly for us.”
The show now moves to Lord’s on Saturday, where England will have the luxury of a capacity crowd for the first time since the pandemic began. While many established favourites will be sitting at home in isolation, their stand-ins will have another chance to show they can be stars in their own right rather than mere supporting acts.