(Photo: Getty Images)
By Graham Hardcastle
SAQIB Mahmood is backing England Lions team-mate Keaton Jennings to have a big impact at Lancashire this summer.
Fast bowler Mahmood, 21, has toured Australia and the West Indies alongside the former Durham batsman this winter.
Jennings has been the marquee signing of a busy build-up to 2018 at Emirates Old Trafford, signing a four-year deal.
And Mahmood is hoping the six-Test left-hander can help the Red Rose push on from last season’s second-placed finish in the Specsavers County Championship.
“He will be a great addition,” said Mahmood. “Keats is a solid bloke, and I feel he will fit in with us very easily. The rest of the lads will definitely make him feel very welcome.
“We have a good group of lads. Although there’s a lot of competition for places, everyone backs each other. We are really looking forward to the season.
“We had a really good year last year. But Essex had 10 or 11 wins out of 14, and there was only going to be one winner.
“With another year’s experience for the lads and to know what it’s like to be up near the top of the table, I think it will give us the confidence to go further this time.”
Jennings will form part of a formidable looking batting unit for Lancashire, arguably the strongest in the country.
The smart money would be on Hameed and wicketkeeper Davies opening the batting, with Jennings, new captain Liam Livingstone, Shiv Chanderpaul and Dane Vilas making up the rest of the top order.
Assuming everyone is fit, last year’s skipper Steven Croft is likely to have to start in the seconds.
But it is the seam bowling which is the area of question for coach Glen Chapple. He has lost key duo Kyle Jarvis and Ryan McLaren, with Graham Onions and overseas Australian Joe Mennie coming in as replacements.
Those two need to stay fit and settle quickly. And that brings us back to Mahmood. He has only played five first-class matches to date, but there are high hopes for him to push on and shine.
Earlier this winter, new cricket director Paul Allott said: “We all really rate him, but we haven’t managed to get as much out of him as we’d like at Lancashire.
“He’s had some injury problems that have kept him out when he should have been developing. But that’s the nature of the game. Bowlers get injured.
“I’m a firm believer that he will only learn now by bowling in the first team and at the higher level.
“Saqib has shown his capabilities, and he’s one of those who I perceive to be one of Lancashire’s leading lights over the next number of years. Injury willing, he will be very good.”
In terms of limited overs cricket, Lancashire have underachieved massively in recent years.
Since winning the T20 Blast for the first time in 2015, they have failed to get out of the group stage and have rarely threatened in the one-day competition since reaching the C&G final in 2006.
There is a huge desire within the squad for that to change.
Jennings, who could debut in this weekend’s University friendly at Loughborough, said: “I haven’t really had too much time in the UK, but the time I’ve had with the club has been really enjoyable so far.
“I can’t wait to get started. I feel like a kid at Christmas.”
And on his bid to add to those six Test caps, he added: “Things can change very quickly, but my focus is on match-winning performances for Lancs.
“Moving away to a new county, that has to be the aim.”