England call shocks Shahzad
England new boy Ajmal Shahzad did not have an inkling he would be included in the squads to tour the United Arab Emirates and Bangladesh - even when he was overlooked for the England Lions party.
Shahzad, by his own admission, was astounded not to be named in a Lions outfit he could now play against in the UAE, after being a member of the England Performance Programme before Christmas.
The 24-year-old Yorkshire seamer called England performance director David Parsons for an explanation, but was given none. Instead, he was told to wait for a call from national selector Geoff Miller.
Even then, Shahzad did not dream he may be in line for a senior call-up, until he found out the reason for his Lions exclusion on Friday.
“I had no idea I was going to be in the squad,” he told ecb.co.uk. “I was disappointed, to say the least, that I wasn’t selected in the England Lions squad that got announced.
“I got a few phone calls saying ‘how come I hadn’t been involved or added to the squad?’, but I had no answer to them.
“I gave Dave Parsons a ring and he said ‘look, you just need to hang fire for a little while - I can’t tell you the information. I can’t give you the reason why, but Geoff Miller will give you a ring soon and you’ll know about it then’.
“I just let it lie then and going back to Yorkshire everyone was asking me ‘how come you didn’t get selected?’. I didn’t have an answer. I just said ‘I’ve got to wait and find out why I haven’t been selected.’
“It was a massive relief and I’m just delighted to be selected.”
Shahzad, born in Huddersfield, was a ‘category B’ player on this winter’s EPP in South Africa - his first involvement in the England set-up since he was a teenager.
Six of his colleagues there, including new county and Lions captain Andrew Gale, were named in the Lions squad to face the UAE, Pakistan and England in Twenty20 and 50-over contests there next month.
Shahzad now knows he will be travelling there too, before heading onto Bangladesh for three one-day internationals and two Tests and he sees his rapid progression as just reward for his efforts at county level.
“It’s been a hard couple of years, just trying to get recognised, trying to get to the stage where I’m being selected for the England Lions team, the academy to South Africa, and just working hard there and getting the recognition to be selected,” he revealed.
“Apart from when I was 17, I hadn’t been involved in the England set-up. It was nice to be out there getting to know some of the coaches at some places with the best facilities available to us, with some of the best coaches out there.
“We were privileged to have some coaching lessons from Allan Donald, Graham Gooch and also Saqlain Mushtaq, who was out there as well.
“It was brilliant just to pick their brains, again for me because I hadn’t been involved in that set-up, and also to pick the brains of Ryan Sidebottom and Ian Bell.
“I asked them ‘How is it like to face me? What would you do differently? What is it like to play at that level?, What kind of mindset have you got?’
“Just to learn, and every little bit of information I gained I thought it massively helpful. Hopefully I can put that into practice if I get selected to play, but I’m just delighted to be in the squad.”
Shahzad’s certainty that he has merited his place in the senior England party means he has no doubt he will feel at home there.
“Playing county cricket and getting out some big-named players, it’s nice to say I’ve got a certain somebody out whose played for England,” he continued. “It’s nice to know I’ve got the ability to get these people out, who have played at the top level.
“To play alongside them, this is the recognition I’ve wanted and needed and I’ve been given the chance to showcase my talent alongside some of the best.
“I’ve got a massive amount of self-belief and I know I can compete with the best and hopefully at the start of this trip away I can show everybody else what I’m capable of doing, that I can play at that level consistently along with the best.
“I want to go there and enjoy myself, but put another name in the hat for the selectors when it comes to some more tours, some trips, some more squad selections and show what I’m capable of doing.
“I’m not only a bowler, I’m an all-rounder. I want to be able to show that I’m a very competent batter and a good strike bowler.”