Ajmal Shahzad reaches crossroads

Jo Harman looks at the rise and fall of Ajmal Shahzad & hopes the best is yet to come from one of England's top prospects

By All Out Cricket

December 7, 2010. With storm clouds gathering over the Adelaide Oval, Graeme Swann pegs back Peter Siddle’s off stump just in the nick of the time to wrap up an innings win and draw first blood in the Ashes.

But there is no time for celebration, at least not as far as the triumvirate of back-up quicks are concerned.

With the announcement that morning that Stuart Broad will play no further part in the series there is a bowling spot up for grabs and as Andrew Strauss leads his triumphant side off the field, he passes David Saker and the three support pacemen walking in the opposite direction, eager to press their claims for a place at the WACA.

As the first raindrops of a storm that will envelop the City of Churches and Chappells begin to fall, out on the square Chris Tremlett, Tim Bresnan and Ajmal Shahzad are put through their paces by England’s fast-bowling coach.

“That lad looks like he’s got something about him,” says an Aussie journalist, watching on as Shahzad steams in, loose-limbed and lithe with a fluent, repeatable action and a hint of star quality. “Yeah, don’t be surprised if you see him at Perth,” replies an English scribe.

As it turns out, Tremlett gets the nod for Perth and Bresnan is drafted in later in the series at the MCG when Steven Finn runs out of puff, leaving Shahzad to carry the drinks for the rest of the series.

But, with a scintillating performance in a warm-up fixture against Australia A setting tongues wagging in the press box, the tour should have marked a significant development in the career of one of English cricket’s most precocious talents.

It hasn’t worked out that way, and less than 18 months on from that Ashes series the 26-year-old finds himself looking for a new club, with his sparkling England debut against Bangladesh in the summer of 2010 – in which he returned first innings figures of 3-45 and impressed with lively pace and reverse-swing – but a distant memory.

After a disappointing county season last term that saw an injury-hampered Shahzad average 37.20 with the ball, fined by the ECB for pitch-scuffing and lambasted publically by Tykes chairman Colin Graves, he appeared to have turned a corner with the arrival of Jason Gillespie at Headingley.

“He had a troubled season last year, but we don’t worry about last year,” said the new Yorkshire coach, just over a week ago. “Ajmal has got himself 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.”

Eight days later, director of cricket Martyn Moxon dropped the bombshell that Yorkshire and Shahzad would be parting company. There has been much speculation about the reasons behind the Huddersfield-born seamer’s shock exit.

The club’s failure to recognise his potential as an allrounder (remember that six against India?), his reluctance to stick to team bowling plans, his rumoured unruly behaviour behind the scenes and fallout from Graves’ criticism have all been mooted as possible explanations, but thus far, both parties have remained tight-lipped.

But one thing is for sure: with England’s plentiful stock of pacemen, Shahzad has plenty of ground to make up if he’s to force his way back into the thoughts of the selectors. At 26, time is on his side and he will not be short of suitors with Somerset, Middlesex and Essex all rumoured to be showing an interest. But as he weighs up his options, he’ll be aware the next chapter in his career could well prove to be the making or breaking of him.

All Out Cricket

Whether you’re an armchair enthusiast or an avid player, All Out Cricket magazine is a great read for cricket fans of all ages and tastes.

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