England the target as Ajmal Shahzad starts again
The Yorkshire-born fast bowler lost his way but hopes a new start with Nottinghamshire will bring him the chance to face the Australians this summer
Sunday 07 April 2013
Had he been inclined to look ahead a couple of winters ago, Ajmal Shahzad might have seen himself as an integral part of the England attack for the 2013 Ashes series.
Great things had been predicted for the Yorkshire fast bowler, renowned for his pace and aggression. He was a surprise inclusion on the 2010-11 Ashes tour, in which he played no Tests but appeared in both Twenty20 matches and the opening one-day international. It was by no means fanciful to suppose he would be a fully-fledged England player by the time the battle for the urn recommenced.
But things did not go according to plan. An injury picked up in Australia would not go away and his struggle for form and fitness coincided with Yorkshire's relegation in the Championship, after which Shahzad was effectively accused of letting his team-mates down by the Yorkshire chairman, Colin Graves.
Unsurprisingly, Shahzad's relationship with Yorkshire soured. Even the arrival of Jason Gillespie as coach could not repair the damage. Last spring, only days after Gillespie had hailed him as a "fantastic bowler of Test quality", he was sacked. The player once proud to be the first Yorkshire-born Asian to play first-class cricket was now branded a troublemaker who put his own interests ahead of the collective. His move to Lancashire on loan seemed only to compound the falling-out.
This week brings a fresh start when he makes his competitive debut for Nottinghamshire in the Championship against Middlesex at Trent Bridge. The pitch will be a typically slow April seamer, but Shahzad will still at times try to bowl like the wind. The questions are: can Shahzad be tamed; and are Nottinghamshire, led by a director of cricket in Mick Newell who is not afraid of confrontation, the county to tame him?
It may be a positive that, on reflection, the 27-year-old accepts he was "stubborn" in resisting Yorkshire's attempts to curb his natural instincts. On the other hand, it is an admission that falls short of repentance.
"I've always seen myself as an attacking, aggressive bowler," he said. "I always wanted to take the new ball, bowling short, sharp bursts, intimidating batsmen and hopefully getting a few wickets. But it came to a point at Yorkshire when I wasn't being given the new ball and instead was being asked to do more of a holding role, bowling line and length.
"Don't get me wrong, that job has to be done. But with my natural attributes – skiddy quick, having a good yorker, a bouncer and a few tricks up my sleeve – I wanted to be given my head, and it frustrated me when that didn't happen. There was a clash of personalities [with Jason Gillespie] but there had been problems niggling underneath for a year before I left."
Yet there is regret from Shahzad that the relationship did not flourish. "I wish I could have worked longer with him [Gillespie], because he is a legend of the game. But whether you are a legend or just mediocre, coaching is all about managing your players. I wish he would have handled me and one or two of the other lads a bit differently."
Shahzad was especially dismayed over the chairman's comments. "When I had a bad season for Yorkshire [in 2011] I had ankle problems. I was half-fit and didn't do as well as I would have liked. So getting slated at the end of the year was out of order. But it could have been handled better from both sides. I was a little bit stubborn, didn't want to give in, and it was the same on the management side. I wish I could turn back time and smooth it all out and play it a different way. But now I'm at Notts it is a fresh start."
Neither party was the other's first choice. Shahzad would have been happy to continue with Lancashire, while Newell had hoped to recruit the former Glamorgan paceman James Harris. Yet Newell has no doubts the relationship can thrive.
"I didn't really question whether we should sign him," he said. "We did our homework. I spoke to David Saker at England, and Peter Moores spoke very highly of him when he was at Lancashire.
"My perspective is that you don't necessarily treat everybody exactly the same. If there are little things about him that need a bit of special treatment he will get that, provided he delivers on the field. We think we have a very talented bloke on our hands who has a bit to prove."
Shahzad is in no doubt of that. "I was disappointed not to play a Test in Australia," he said. "I had my debut against Bangladesh in 2010; I thought I bowled nicely. I got into the Twenty-20 and one-day set-ups and every time I played I think I did well.
"But I picked up a hamstring strain in the World Cup from trying too hard and just drifted away from it after that. I was trying to get my form back but my ankle was always sore and that, combined with the troublesome time I was having at Yorkshire, did not really help.
"Coming here I will play alongside top-class players who are in the England set-up and playing in international tournaments. Mick has told me exactly where he wants me to fit into his plans and I'm very happy with that. I'll still bowl aggressively, still try to make things happen, but I want to set the right standard.
"If I can do well against these guys in the nets and stand out amongst some of the best it can get me back in the spotlight, because I still have massive ambitions."
15 reasons to look forward to the summer of cricket
The yellow-jacketed bible is 150 years old this year and as comprehensive and opinionated as ever
An Ashes whitewash?
After Australia's 4-0 defeat in India, where England won for the first time since 1985, there may never be a better chance for an England side to wipe the floor with their oldest adversaries, who have not been on the end of a real Ashes thrashing since Mike Brearley led his side to a 5-1 win Down Under in 1978-79
A midsummer Twenty20
Because from 2014 the summer tournament format that made the Twenty20 Cup an instant hit when it was launched in 2003 will be ditched in favour of a season-long league played on Friday nights. Critics fear that county cricket's moneyspinner could lose its shine as a result
The end of the Champions Trophy
In a ridiculously overcrowded international fixture schedule, the ICC Champions Trophy to be staged in England and Wales in June will thankfully be the last. After 14 years, the ICC have decided that a World Cup every four years is quite sufficient to determine the best international side over 50 overs
Marvel at The Crab as the Guyanan left-hander with the ugliest stance in world cricket goes into bat for his fourth English county after Derbyshire dug deep into their pockets in the hope of staying in the First Division. Ugly but efficient, though: his 10-year Test average is better than Sachin Tendulkar's
The former Australian captain, whose only previous experience of county cricket was a short spell with Somerset in 2004, returns to England in June and July to cover for Graeme Smith at Surrey while the South Africa captain is on international duty
Graeme Smith at Surrey
The hardline leadership style of the South African Test captain could be the factor that enables Surrey's talented side to turn from tragedy — after the death of Tom Maynard — to triumph in 2013
The Old Trafford Media Centre
The vivid red exterior — matching the startlingly modern Point facility that sits menacingly on the shoulder of the old pavilion — may not be to everyone's taste but the new Lancashire media centre puts the county in the First Division in one respect, even if the team are in the Second Division
The most coveted bowler to change counties turned down Nottinghamshire in favour of Middlesex. The 22-year-old seamer had previously led the Glamorgan attack since he was 16
After what feels like the longest winter on record, preceded by the wettest summer, things can only get better, surely?
The 24-year-old Nottinghamshire and England batsman is a Twenty20 superstar in the making after five half-centuries in just 17 international T20 innings, in the latest of which he sped to 80 off just 42 balls against New Zealand in February
Cricket in the last week of September
A marathon County Championship season that begins this Wednesday does not end until Friday 27 September, when the weather will almost certainly be a good deal warmer than now
The Trent Bridge replay screen
Nottinghamshire supporters may lament the passing of the uniquely informative scoreboard at the Radcliffe Road end of the Trent Bridge ground — itself once a facility ahead of its time — but the replay screen that has gone up in its place can show pictures of almost HD quality. At a cost of £1.8 million, though, it may be the world's most expensive television set
England players turning out for their counties
Centrally contracted England players — especially the bowlers — rarely make more than a couple of appearances a season for their county sides. This year, though, England have cleared Alastair Cook, Matt Prior, Stuart Broad, James Anderson, Steven Finn, Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott for two Championship fixtures before the May Test series against New Zealand, while Nick Compton, Joe Root and Chris Woakes have the chance to play three matches and Graham Onions the opportunity to play in four
Yorkshire back in Division One
Love or loathe what the natives modestly refer to as "God's chosen county", there is no doubt the top division of the Championship is stronger for Yorkshire's presence
Manchester United teased by Monaco after claims they could have signed 'Luis Suarez of Neymar' instead or £58m Anthony Martial
Former Manchester United star Karel Poborsky goes full hipster
Manchester United hit back at Real Madrid by claiming they let David De Gea 'slip through their fingers into the back of the net'
Premier League Power Rankings: Eden Hazard and Harry Kane continue to slip but Wayne Rooney has to perform against rivals
Serie B introduces 'green cards' to promote good behaviour, fair play and sportsmanship
- 1 What marriage would look like if we actually followed the Bible
- 3 'Heartbreaking' Syria orphan photo wasn't taken in Syria and not of orphan
- 5 Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Britain to take more refugees as Cameron bows to pressure after more than 250,000 back our campaign
Senior British politicians tell David Cameron: When dead children are being washed up on beaches – it's time to act
Jeremy Corbyn calls Osama bin Laden's killing a 'tragedy' - but was it taken out of context?
If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don't change Europe's attitude to refugees, what will?
Make your voice heard: Sign The Independent's petition to welcome refugees
If you're not already angry about the refugee crisis, here's a history lesson to remind you why you really should be