Face for 2009: Bilal Shafayat

Wessels opens the door to fulfilment for a restless talent

Bilal Shafayat began his fifth season in county cricket last Wednesday, yet he will not celebrate his 21st birthday until 10 July. This suggests strongly that he was a child prodigy, and his own opinion of himself seemed to take that for granted.

Bilal Shafayat began his fifth season in county cricket last Wednesday, yet he will not celebrate his 21st birthday until 10 July. This suggests strongly that he was a child prodigy, and his own opinion of himself seemed to take that for granted.

A double hundred for England Under-19s against India at Northampton in 2002 was considered stunning. It was his second century in the match, a feat managed by only one other England Under-19 player - Mark Ramprakash.

Two winters ago, Shafayat declared that he would become the best player in the world. He sticks to that: "I don't say things if I don't mean them. I can assure you of that," he says.

He has far to go, but there is still plenty of time. Last autumn he decided to leave Nottingham, where he was born and grew up, and Trent Bridge, where he had first made a mark in 2001. Wisden's 2002 Almanack reported: "His compact technique and wristy on-side flicks should become part of the Trent Bridge scene." He never became mighty, but he had fallen. As he says himself: "When I was 16 I played in five games and got half-centuries. Last year I was 19 and I played in one." He transferred his affections to Northamptonshire, and last week scored 59 on his debut, as an opening bat.

He left Trent Bridge because he realised that if he is going to become half as good as he hopes to be, he needs regular first-team cricket. "I thought it would be a very difficult decision, but I didn't take much persuading. I wanted to play first-class so badly. I am so desperate to play." Usman Afzaal, who defected from Nottinghamshire last year, steered him towards North-ampton, and Kepler Wessels lured him into port.

When I arrived at the county ground early and mentioned to Northamptonshire players already there that we were to meet at 9am, they laughed. Shafayat arrived 25 minutes late, five minutes before Wessels wanted them for training. He is small, with deep brown eyes, lighter skin and short black hair. Since there was no time for pleasantries, he was asked to explain last year's bad season.

But Shafayat does not do failure. "Do you think that was a bad season?" Evidently. "I'm not sure it was a bad season. Every year has been a learning year." First impression: Shafayat's remarkable self-belief appears to be intact.

And what did he learn? "I think it was about being patient, not being rushed and getting ahead of myself, and remembering that I am 19 or 20. Things may not be so sweet as they were in Under-19 cricket, and I had to be really tough with myself, like making the decision to come here. This is the right place."

Apparently, Nottinghamshire were anxious not to lose him and offered a three-year contract. But leaving was made easier by the realisation that there were more batsmen in the squad at Trent Bridge than there were places, and competition would be no less hard this season.

"You feel that, when you get a game, you must score a hundred, because, if you're not performing, you're not playing. It's as simple as that. Overseas players coming in with Kolpaks and all that stuff. You must be on form. It's a challenge, really."

Wessels assured Shafayat that there was a spot at No 5 or as an opener. That was a challenge too. Expert diagnoses detect a weakness against short-pitched bowling, though that has not deterred him from opening. "It's something I did fancy. It could tighten my game up, or I could get exposed, but if I want an international career there are certain things I have to get in place."

He prepared for this season by spending the winter in Karachi. He signed up for the Pakistan National Bank team - he was the only non-international player. He thinks Wessels will suit him too: "He keeps things simple. He doesn't mess around. He's to the point." Shafayat lives five minutes from the county ground with a few other players. For the first time in his life he has moved out of the family home, but he says he has adjusted easily.

There is nothing to do except train in the gym, practise in the indoor nets and play cricket. He welcomes that. And his goals? He will be happy if he averages around 50 this season: "If you're going to set goals, you should be able to achieve them." Second impression: Shafayat's head is not always in the clouds.

But his ambition is still fierce. Ask him about playing for England in 2009 (the ECB's target date for world domination) and the optimism shines through: "Things happen quickly in cricket. I could end up playing next year or five years later. Who knows?"

His Under-19 coach, Graham Saville, identified him as a potential England captain. But he has found the transition to first-class, never mind Test, cricket a grim affair.

He may turn out to have been all talk, but the lingering impression is that if a cocky nature and the appearance of cast-iron self-belief can propel a talented man into Test cricket, it would be an error to write off Bilal Shafayat.

News
news

Emergency call 'started off dumb, but got pretty serious'

News
people

Britain First criticised for using actress's memory to draw attention to their 'hate-filled home page'

Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling is releasing a new Harry Potter story about Dolores Umbridge
arts + entsJK Rowling to publish new story set in wizard's world for Halloween
News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
people

Thought you'd seen it all after the Jeremy Paxman interview?

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch
tv

Greatest mystery about the hit BBC1 show is how it continues to be made at all, writes Grace Dent

Life and Style
tech

Voices
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into conflicts
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'
film

"History is violent," says the US Army tank commander Don "Wardaddy" Collier

News
The Edge and his wife, Morleigh Steinberg, at the Academy Awards in 2014
peopleGuitarist faces protests over plan to build mansions in Malibu
Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
football

Striker's four-month ban for biting an opponent expires on Friday

News
news
News
peopleFox presenter gives her less than favourable view of women in politics
News
George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin married in Venice yesterday
peopleAmal and George Clooney 'planning third celebration in England'
Property
One bedroom terraced house for sale, Richmond Avenue, Islington, London N1. On with Winkworths for £275,000.
property
Sport
Erik Lamela celebrates his goal
football

Argentinian scored 'rabona' wonder goal for Tottenham in Europa League – see it here

News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker