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."
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