CricketNews.com correspondent Sandipan Banerjee caught up with Shahbaz Nadeem.
Back in 2004, when Shahbaz Nadeem made his First-Class debut in a Plate Group Ranji Trophy game against Kerala, he was only 15. The rookie Jharkhand left-arm spinner, who has always been a huge Daniel Vettori fan, bowled 52 overs in that match at the Keenan stadium in Jamshedpur and got just couple of scalps to his name.
Today at 30 Nadeem has already spent half of his lifetime as a professional cricketer. With 657 wickets to his name across formats, he is presently being regarded as a domestic legend. In fact, since the 2015-16 season, the left-armer has taken 144 wickets in the Ranji Trophy at an astounding average of 23.8 – most by anyone else during the same timeframe. As a result, he has been a regular feature at the India A level and even over there Nadeem has been by far the most consistent performer for a while now.
Yet, the India jersey has somehow eluded him.
Perhaps for any cricketer (or sportsman) dealing with such a situation is a huge test of mental strength and character, kind of make or break type. When you have accomplished almost every possible goal at the domestic circuit, yet the door for the next level is not opening — it is very hard to motivate yourself.
However, there is always light at the end of a long tunnel. And Nadeem trusts his grit and perseverance to fulfill his ultimate goal.
“Muje India khelna hai, wo hi mera sabse bada motivation hai [I want to play for India and that is my biggest motivation],” says Nadeem in an exclusive chat with cricketnews.com. He has just come back from a successful tour [15 wickets in two four-day games] of West Indies with the India A side and has already started his preparation for his upcoming assignment against South Africa A.
“You see, compared to a batsman or a fast bowler, at this point it is very hard to get into the Indian team as a spinner, especially if you are a left-armer. Now we have Kuldeep [Yadav], who has bowled well and there is also [Ravindra] Jadeja. So, as a cricketer you have to see whether the place you are fighting for is empty or not. Currently, those guys [Kuldeep and Jadeja] are bowling well and I love watching them. So, perhaps, I have to wait for my turn,” explains Nadeem, who did get his maiden India call-up in November last year during the home T20I series against West Indies, but failed to get a game.
His answer may sound like a cliché, but Nadeem just literally can’t do anything else to strengthen his claim. He knows that he is not just knocking at the door of the selectors but almost banging on it. And perhaps that’s why at this point the Dhanbad lad just wants to control the controllable.
“Mere hat me hai sirf wicket lena, who mai le raha hu aur mai wohi karta rahunga. Mera aim ha jab vi mai bowling karu, wicket column pe at least 3-4 wicket rahe. [Taking wickets is in my hand. I am doing this and will continue to do that. My aim is, whenever I bowl, the wicket column shows at least 3-4 wickets].”
“Performance wise I am doing well in each and every season and for India A or whatever matches I get to play. Nothing more I can do there apart from keep on repeating what I am doing,” laments Nadeen before hoping, “I am always a huge believer of the luck factor and I think someday it will shine on me.”
In modern-day cricket, especially in shorter formats, where teams like to have some depth in the batting line-up, all-rounders tend to get the nod of the selectors and the team management far more easily than the specialists. And though Nadeem is a decent lower-order batsman (has more than 2000 First-Class runs), but while competing against the likes of Krunal Pandya and Axar Patel, he tends to fall behind in the race.
“Yes in T20s all-rounders do get the preference and I am not denying that, but in one-dayers and multi-day matches you need the skills and of a specialist. Remember, in these formats one needs to bowl a lot of overs and you have to be a proper bowler to do that.”
He further adds, “At times I feel this particular biasness towards batting skill is more evident if you are a left-arm spinner. In the present Indian set-up, apart from Kuldeep who is a Chinaman, which is a rare breed in India; every other left-arm spinner is more of an all-rounder, whether it is Jadeja, Krunal or Axar. But you won’t find all-rounders, in other type of spinners (sic).”
Nevertheless, to counter his shortcomings as a batsman, Nadeem plans to gain more point as a bowler.
“I have started developing my own version of left-arm wrist-spin,” he reveals. “Currently I am trying it in the shorter format. I am using it as a variation, especially when a left-hander is on strike. But it is still work in progress and I will soon start using it in the longer version as well.
“Unlike T20s, in day’s cricket, the batsmen watch your hand more carefully and often try not to attack you. As a result, on a flat deck outfoxing them becomes tough. Under such circumstances, I will use this weapon. The ball will look like a normal left-arm spin, but after pitching it will come in for a right hander. Normally, when you bowl an arm ball you don’t know how much the ball will deviate, it just comes in from an angle. However, in this particular delivery, I want the ball to behave according to my wish. But I have to perfect my skills to execute it properly.”
Well, despite all his devotion towards revamping himself as a bowler and adding new skills to his armory, deep inside Nadeem knows that he is battling against the time. Age is certainly not in his side and perhaps he has a maximum of two more years to impress the selectors and wear that India jersey.
“At present I am playing the best cricket of my life. So I really hope that I will get a chance in the Indian team very soon. Considering my fitness, I can continue as a professional till the age of 37-38. So, even if I make my debut at 32, I can still play for the country for a good five years,” he says.
Well, optimism is fine, but is it realistic?
“The selectors have constantly backed me and even in the India nets, Ravi Sir [Shastri] and Bharat Arun sir have encouraged me whenever I have spoken with them. They have said that the team is playing nonstop cricket these days; the Test Championship is also happening, and with the rotation policy in place, I am very close to making my debut,” Nadeem narrates.
“I just want that India cap and play consistently, no matter the format. At the end of my career, I want to be remembered as someone who has made some sort of an impact in Indian cricket.”
Only time will tell whether the door opens for Nadeem or not, but his sheer commitment towards the game certainly deserves a lot of admiration. And we should sincerely hope that Shahbaz Nadeem’s career doesn’t go down the path of Amol Muzumdar’s, who dispite all his potential never played for the Indian team.
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