Whatever Happened To The Unlikely Lads? #8: Ajmal Shahzad
May 5, 2012 | Nichael Bluth | Opinion
When we set up the catchily named WHTTU Lads feature, the original idea was to relentlessly mock those players who just weren’t very good, and yet found themselves playing 30 ODIs and perhaps a bunch of disastrous Test matches. And that remains the case: Jamie Dalrymple, your time will come. However, today’s Unlikely Lad is quite different. Eighteen months ago he was part of England’s Ashes plans, pencilled in to play in Adelaide, before Steve Finn grabbed a bunch of wickets and ruined everything. After that he was a cog in the poorly-built machine that was England’s rubbish World Cup campaign. And yet now he’s without a county and probably homeless, like Noel Edmonds. What on Earth has happened to:
#8: Ajmal Shahzad
Back in 2009 Shahzad looked like he might be the latest quality fast bowler to emerge from the conveyor belt of County Cricket, with the potential to follow the likes of Graeme Onions, Stuart Broad and Amjad Khan into the Test side. As a slingy reverse-swing bowler, Shahzad was something a bit different from traditional British ‘line and length’ seamers and this was obviously noted by Andy Flower and his team, with a callup to the England Performance squad in South Africa. From there it wasn’t long before Shahzad was in the full Test squad, touring Bangladesh in early 2010, where he also made his ODI debut (taking 1-55 in a high-scoring game that England won).
During the return tour a few months later Tim Bresnan injured himself taking his whippet for a walk, meaning that Shahzad had an opportunity to play in the second Test at Old Trafford. England won that game by an innings, with the bowlers almost falling over one another to grab the wickets, but Shahzad certainly didn’t look out of place, taking match figures of 4/63.
Unfortunately for Shahzad he then injured his ankle, missing out on the following series against Pakistan. Anderson, Broad, Finn and Swann all bowled beautifully through all four matches (Broad’s average was the worst at just 23.35) and England’s Ashes strategy was set in stone. However, Shahzad was still expected to be in the squad.
In the end that didn’t quite materialise – he was included in the performance squad that toured Australia as backup and started the warmup game against Australia A – but the word on the street was that Shahzad would still play in Adelaide, on the driest pitch in Australia. And although that didn’t happen, thanks to Finn’s excellent performance in Brisbane, Shahzad still came into the ODI side for the seven game series that followed and retained his place in the squad for the World Cup.
Shahzad didn’t play in England’s first game, a victory over the Netherlands that was as lethargic as Noel Edmonds after a night sleeping in Archway station, but came into the team for the second game, against India. This was, to quote from an embryonic 51allout’s notes, ‘an absolutely batshit mental humdinger of a game’. India racked up 338 (Shahzad finishing with 0/53 from his eight overs) which England incredibly looked set to chase down at 281/2. Then came the inevitable collapse and England found themselves needing fourteen from the final over, with Shahzad just arriving at the crease. Swann scampered three from the first two balls before Shahzad cleared his front leg out of the way and launched his first ball miles back into the crowd. It was one of those ‘off the sofa’ moments, in that we literally fell off the sofa, spilling gin absolutely everywhere. Our curtains have never been the same.
Shahzad and Swann pinched a bye from the next ball and scampered three more from the final two deliveries to leave the scores tied, the crowd breathless and the curtains soaking. That one shot from Shahzad will live long in the memory, like that time we met Les Dennis in Caffe Nero and he pinched the last chocolate muffin from right under our noses.
From there, of course, it all went downhill fairly quickly. England lost to Ireland (without Shahzad) before beating South Africa in another ridiculous game (also without Shahzad). He was back into the side to face Bangladesh, a game that England lost despite Shahzad taking 3-43, before suffering a tournament-ending hamstring injury.
It seemed that it would just be a blip but Shahzad hasn’t been seen in England colours since. The following season he had a complete shocker, taking just 25 wickets at 41 before being reprimanded for scuffing up the pitch against Warwickshire. His excuse of having dog poo on his shoes fell on deaf ears, and he found himself £750 worse off for his troubles.
Despite his disappointing season, Shahzad remained part of the England performance programme over the winter and came into the 2012 season being hyped by new coach Jason Gillespie as being “in as good a condition as he’s ever been in his first-class career. He’s worked incredibly hard, and I think he’s a fantastic bowler, a very exciting bowler, loads better than that bloody useless Philander fellow.”
And yet now, barely a month later, Shahzad is leaving Yorkshire with the player and his coaches having reached an impasse over his role. Shahzad wants to be a maverick fast bowler, bowling as fast as possible. Yorkshire (and England) want him to bowl line and length and build pressure and took the new ball off him as soon as Tim Bresnan was available (with Mitchell Starc likely to also be ahead in the pecking order when he arrives). Similarly, Shahzad wants to bat as high as possible and thrash the ball around. His side have tended to push him down the order, not trusting him to do the required job for the team. It’s this lack of ‘team spirit’ that was cited by Yorkshire chairman Colin Graves.
It’s clear that there’s no easy solution here. Neither side seems to have any faith in the other and in situations like that a change is usually best for all concerned. Shahzad won’t be short of suitors – Somerset in particular are so short of players that what we thought was the mascot opened the bowling in last night’s Pro40 game – but he has an awful lot to prove before he’s likely to be anywhere near an England shirt again. The current fast bowler queue means that England can probably only squeeze one of Bresnan, Finn and Onions into the Test side, while in the shorter forms Jade Dernbach, Stuart Meaker and Chris Woakes are all considered as more likely prospects. It all adds up to Shahzad, at just 26, potentially facing the end of his international career after just a single Test match.