Patience pays off with Shahzad's late flourish

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The Independent Online

Ajmal Shahzad had never been to London, never mind Lord's, before his fruitless trip to the capital of a week or so ago. But there must have been times yesterday - before he finished with a real flourish - when England's newest fast bowler felt even less at home in Manchester.

The first Test pitch of the summer was far from being a seamer's dream. Yet, compared with the bone dry and snail-paced surface on offer at Old Trafford, it was a juicy little flyer.

All and sundry had promised Huddersfield-born Shahzad that if he made his Test debut in Manchester he would be operating on a track quicker than anything the opposition had encountered in a month of Sundays. Instead, the 650th cricketer to have an England cap plonked on his head could almost have been back in Chittagong or Dhaka, where he watched from the sidelines during March while other pacemen had their hearts broken.

Still, patience is proving to be a virtue for Shahzad. Having been an original selection for the tour of Bangladesh, he looked set to complete a remarkably rapid rise to the top when both Graham Onions and Ryan Sidebottom succumbed to injury on the subcontinent. But England decided otherwise. Having called up Finn and Bresnan to bolster dwindling numbers, they picked both of the late arrivals for the two-match series while Shahzad was left to carry the drinks.

The 24-year-old Yorkshire player had earned his first senior tour largely as a result of bowling aggressively and intelligently against England's frontline batsmen during a practice session in Pretoria shortly before Christmas. In South Africa with the Performance Squad, he impressed the two Andys - captain Strauss and coach Flower - sufficiently to move from international possible to Test probable almost in the blink of an eye.

Like many before him, though, so near became so far for Shahzad, and it is reasonable to assume he would have been 12th man again in Manchester but for county colleague Tim Bresnan suffering a stress fracture of the foot at Lord's. Still, whatever the circumstances and regardless of conditions, his chance has come to convince the selectors they have found another Ashes candidate.

England are assembling quite a collection of players worthy of consideration with Australia in mind. Of the newer pace bowlers, Steve Finn stated a strong case at Lord's while Bresnan earned plenty of admirers for his work in Bangladesh. Now Shahzad, who became the first British born Asian to play for Yorkshire when he made his county debut in 2004, is itching to show what he can do - with bat as well as ball.

Yesterday was not quite what he had in mind by way of an introduction. True, one crisp square drive to the boundary offered a clue as to how he managed to average 40 with the bat in championship cricket last summer, but then he slapped a rather tame shot to cover.

It is Shahzad's bowling that will make or break him as an international cricketer, however, and it would be wrong to pass judgement either way on the strength of yesterday's efforts. An unproductive and expensive first spell left the newcomer with plenty to think about but all who know him say lack of spirit will never be a problem. And so it seemed.

Mohammad Ashraful obligingly sliced a cut but Mahmadullah and Shafiul Islam were properly bowled out by reverse swing to put a beaming smile on Shahzad's face and delight his team-mates.

"I thought I had a lot of enthusiasm until I met Shaz," said the ever ebullient Graeme Swann, who was last night celebrating his first five-wicket haul in a home Test. "The politest way to put it is he's an absolute loon. He's like a big kid and he's enjoying every minute. He got his first spell out of the way and then when he came back on with the ball swinging I thought he was exceptional."