Ahmed Shahzad: Rising in the ranks
Delightful performances and world cup promises; this teenager may be the opening batsman our team is looking for.
Ahead of the cricket World Cup this month, the timely arrival of Ahmad Shahzad into the Pakistan cricket team has made me very hopeful . The teenager's century inspired Pakistan to a 41-run win over New Zealand and wrapped up the six-match series with a game to spare.
The Lahore-born opener who attended Cathedral High School began his cricketing journey at the age of seven and has never looked back, representing Pakistan at the under-13, under-16 and under-19 level.
He is a true example of someone who has risen in the ranks based solely on merit, and is fast becoming the solution to one half of the elusive openers problem that has haunted Pakistan since Saeed Anwar and Amir Sohail.
I have been following Shahzad's progress since he was a 16-year-old playing for Pakistan's under-19. I remember telling my friends to watch out for a bright new talent who will cement his place as the future opener of the Pakistan cricket team. Shahzad's prolific career needs to be mentioned and since I have been lobbying for him for the past three years, it is only fair that I give an insight into Shahzad's cricketing career.
Too good to be true?
Shahzad first caught attention when Pakistan under-19 was playing a two match Youth Test series in England in 2007. After losing the first match emphatically by an innings and 58 runs, Pakistan was staring down the gun barrel again in the second test. Pakistan needed 342 runs in the second innings to win the test and save the series. Shahzad came out, guns blazing, and scored a sparkling 167 to lead Pakistan to a thrilling win in Derby. The second highest scorer for Pakistan in that innings was a meagre 42, which left me wondering: is this a one-time fluke as it often is for Pakistani players, or is he for real?
Following the tour to England, Pakistan under-19 hosted Australia under-19 for a five match one day series. Shahzad was again at his belligerent best, scoring 115 from 110 in the third one day, followed by a 99 (not out) in the final one day as Pakistan won the series comprehensively 5-0.
In November 2007, Pakistan under-19 hosted Bangladesh U-19, where Shahzad again scored 104 in the first innings of the only youth test played and Pakistan drew that test.
In January 2008, Pakistan under-19 toured Sri Lanka for a tri-nation tournament in preparation for the upcoming under-19 World Cup. Shahzad scored a scintillating 90 (not out) followed by a 70 and 20. It was on this very tour when Umar Akmal broke through and overshadowed everyone else by scoring heavily in all the matches. Pakistan won all the matches in that series.
The 2008 under-19 World Cup expected much from Shahzad, but he failed to impress as Pakistan lost out to South Africa in the semi-final. Shahzad managed only 136 runs in five matches in the tournament. His only knock worth mentioning was in the losing, because in the semi-final where he scored 60 runs in overcast conditions favouring swing bowling, Pakistan was bundled out for 158.
Partying in Nairobi
In September of 2008, Shahzad travelled with the Pakistan Cricket Academy to tour Kenya and Zimbabwe, where he did not perform well and found himself in trouble. He was fined $400 and suspended for two matches for breaking curfew and scoping out the night life in Nairobi with fellow team mate Anwar Ali. He later confessed in a TV interview that 2008 was the worst year of his short cricketing career. It was back to the drawing boards for Shahzad, who went back to playing club cricket and worked on his shortcomings.
In 2009, Shahzad was picked to play for Patrons XI in a warm up match against Sri Lanka, where he scored an impressive 146 runs. He was selected for the home test series against Sri Lanka but did not get a chance to play. Shortly after, he participated in Pakistan’s successful campaign in the T20 World Cup in England. However, he could not find a place as a regular member on the squad. He was selected in Pakistan's home-away-from-home series in UAE hosting Australia, where he showed glimpses of his prowess as an opener, scoring runs briskly but had no big totals to show. As is often the problem with our batsmen, his temperament needed fine tuning.
Selectors wouldn’t ignore this wonder
In 2010, Shahzad announced himself to the domestic season in stunning fashion. He left no questions about his abilities as a batsman who understands the game, and knows what he has to do to succeed. In six first class matches, Shahzad scored 719 runs at an average of 103.71 which included a knock of 254. He made it impossible for the selectors to ignore him for the upcoming World Cup. Now that is special.
A shining star
Over his brief career, Shahzad has shown a splendid ability to skillfully pile on the runs. He has batted as an opener throughout his career and has never pushed himself down the order to avoid seeing the new ball. New Zealand’s former cricketer Simon Doull remembers Shahzad best for the confidence he possesses and his ability to back himself.
Aside from his promising performances, he has displayed the capacity to learn and make changes to his game in order to prosper as an opening batsman. He is a shining star in Pakistan's armour of surprises that await the world in the upcoming 2011 World Cup. Alongside, Umar Akmal and Asad Shafiq - they represent the X-factor in Pakistan's batting lineup. For them, the stage is set to light ablaze the flat subcontinent pitches with their bats. I am very excited at the prospect of seeing our young guns perform this month.
God bless the cornered tigers!