Shahzad pines for Caribbean encore
If Ajmal Shahzad is thrown the ball at the death for England in this year’s World Twenty20, he is confident his chastening first-hand experience will bode well.
On international debut against Pakistan in Dubai, Shahzad experienced about as full a range of emotions as is possible in four overs.
Entrusted the first over of the innings, his opening ball was smacked for four by Imran Nazir, before dismissing Nazir and Imran Farhat with his third and fifth deliveries.
Returning for the penultimate over, the game was in the balance, but Shahzad erred in length and Abdul Razzaq exacted harsh punishment - bludgeoning two monstrous sixes to settle the matter with six balls to spare.
Unbowed from that experience, the irrepressible 24-year-old still maintains the percentages are in a fast man’s favour in the dying throes of a match.
If that statement has more than a whiff of Darren Gough about it, it is no accident.
“It went well for me in the Twenty20 but I learnt the hard way with regards the fourth over,” Shahzad told ecb.co.uk.
“I didn’t get my yorkers spot on and I went the distance from a class batsman. I’ve learnt a lot from Dubai and what you have to do at the top level.
“I still enjoyed it, though, to be honest. As long as I get the ball is in my hand I love it. I like to bowl at the beginning in all games, and at the death.
“Goughie always told me that the death is where you have more chance to get wickets as everyone’s trying to get after you.
“Unfortunately I didn’t execute my skills well enough in the last over on that occasion. But I’m learning every time.”
With just 22 first-class games to his name, Shahzad is right to recognise that he remains on a learning curve.
But he must have done something to impress his suitors in the United Arab Emirates and Bangladesh, as he was one of 15 names today retained in England’s final squad for the World Twenty20, which begins in the Caribbean in a month.
Recent injuries may have claimed Graham Onions and Dimitri Mascarenhas, but Shahzad could conceivably have made the cut regardless.
When England’s cavalcade moved on to Bangladesh, he showed great willingness to listen and adapt to the demands of international touring, not to mention bowled wholeheartedly and tidily whenever called upon.
Shahzad’s only disappointment would have been missing out on selection for the two Tests as England opted for Steven Finn for the third fast-bowling berth in both Chittagong and Mirpur.
But Shahzad has a second chance to impress in Guyana, where Paul Collingwood’s side will meet hosts West Indies and then Ireland in Group D.
“I’m not sure what it’s going to be like in Guyana, where the first games are, and how they would use me,” Shahzad admitted.
“To be honest in Bangladesh I think I was partly picked with a view to learning; how to bowl on flat wickets, to be around the squad, train well and see if I was up to standards and fit in. I think I’ve done that.”
Shahzad is also brave enough to admit that any winter hype surrounding his supposed mastery of the fast bowler’s ‘rabbit-in-the-hat’ - reverse-swing - was mere press chatter.
“People were giving it the hype - ‘this kid can reverse-swing it’,” he recalled.
“To be honest, I didn’t know I could reverse-swing it! I knew the basics, but it’s very difficult to practice in English conditions.
“The first few days I practised it, got to grips with it and I was enjoying it.”
England’s latest tour was an unusual one for the seamers in one respect; the squad travelled without a bowling coach for the first time since Ottis Gibson’s departure in January.
After Graham Onions and Ryan Sidebottom were claimed by injury, it meant that a seam department with only 37 collective Test caps to its name had to take responsibility for their own fortunes.
And Shahzad reveals that Stuart Broad was an important source of guidance for him throughout the tour.
He said: “Broady was the senior bowler and we spoke a lot to him about bowling plans. In regards to actions and their own bowling, everybody was sound on it.
“He’s only a young lad like me, but cricket-wise he’s very mature. It was very good to listen and learn from him, to see what he would do.
“We realised pretty early on, as soon as the new ball had gone, it was very difficult to seam it.
“But we watched Brezzy (Tim Bresnan) and Broady bowl a lot of off-cutters and slower balls, and reverse-swing then began to play a part.”
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