Shahzad ready to repay father
Ajmal Shahzad will begin to repay his father properly - for the lifelong work ethic he has instilled in him - if he makes his Test debut for England at Old Trafford this week.
Shahzad has a favourite’s chance of inching out his fellow Yorkshireman Ryan Sidebottom for a place in the team to face Bangladesh on the other side of the Pennines on Friday.
The 24-year-old still recalls hours spent on extra study during his private-school education in Bradford, while his friends were out playing football, and a successful battle against the bulge as an overweight teenager.
Shahzad’s studies resulted in nine GCSEs and four A-levels - and although he eventually had to choose cricket over his university career, and that of a badminton international too, he believes the discipline of his early years has helped him to the verge of Test cricket.
For that, he thanks his father Mohammed - a cricket enthusiast who has already seen his son make history as the first British-born Asian to play for his native Yorkshire.
“My dad’s had to work very hard to put me through private schools, and I’ve put a lot of hard hours in,” said the pace-bowling all-rounder.
“When everybody else was out playing football at 13, 14, 15, I was doing homework and extra study.
“It was tough, but I’m reaping the rewards now. I owe my dad massively. He’s put a lot of effort and hard graft in.
“I hope I can repay him by making sure he can watch me play international cricket.”
Shahzad has had his own choices to make on his way from chubby teenager to a bustling bowler who can expect to fare well against Bangladesh if he is unleashed on a surface with a recent tradition of pace and bounce.
“I was quite a hefty lad when I was younger, quite a big unit - at 15, I probably weighed about 14 or 15 stones,” he said. “So I’ve had to work hard to get to where I am.”
It was a handful of years later that Shahzad decided he was going to devote his energies solely to cricket.
He continued: “Education was the route for me. I loved it and was quite a bright lad - I still am.
“Before my cricket took off, I played badminton (up to England Under-18s). But that used to give me a bad back, so it was kind of a toss-up between badminton and cricket.
“My dad loved cricket, so he pushed me down that avenue. But I was travelling from Bradford to Leeds, and my cricket was in the way a little bit - and I didn’t know how to balance my time.
“I had a decision whether I had to stick with cricket or education. My dad at that point was fine (for me) to make my decision, and it’s got me to where I am today.”
That is, of course, in an England 12 preparing to complete a 2-0 npower series victory.
After Steven Finn’s nine-wicket match haul on his home debut at Lord’s, with James Anderson’s status as leader of the pace attack and Graeme Swann’s certain inclusion as the only spinner, Shahzad - who was already in the squad for the first Test and retains that place - faces an apparent straight fight with left-armer Sidebottom for the role of third seamer.
Should he be chosen, he is confident the time is right.
“I’m ready to go, if the nod is given to me. I’m as ready as I’ll ever be,” he said.
“Finny’s come on the scene and performed superbly well. Obviously, with his extra height, he’s got something to offer that (team director) Andy (Flower) likes.
“I hadn’t been involved with the England circuit at all, apart from with the performance programme in South Africa, so it was a big hit for me (to be picked to go to Bangladesh last winter) - and I really enjoyed it out there.
“It was difficult conditions and made me wake up and think ‘not all wickets are going to be bouncy, quick - and it’s not always going to swing and seam’. You have to put some hard graft in and work at other areas of your game.
“I’ve learned a lot from being there and in the West Indies. I’ve got stronger shoulders from carrying drinks - but I’ve learned a lot ‘up here’.
“I’ve seen the boys progress, and what it takes at international level. So I know what I need to do. I think the only way I can really do that is out there on the pitch.”
Even if he does not play, Shahzad will not be sitting on the sidelines wondering why - because he always makes a point of quizzing the selectors on their decisions.
“I ask them before every game the reasons for people being selected, and I can fully understand it,” he said.
“The coaches see what I’ve got to offer, what’s different between me and Finny - and if they want that in the game, I’ve got to be ready.”