Shahbaz Ahmed: ‘Ready and waiting to finish the match on my own’

Algebra and calculus haunt Bengal and Royal Challengers Bangalore all-rounder shahbaz ahmed More than any opposition bowler or batsman.

In 2011, Shahbaz’s father enrolled him in a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, but until last year he could not progress beyond Mathematics 101, a subject from the first semester. It was last season, when he was playing for RCB in IPL, as it happened, that he took the online test for it and passed. “So you can say that I have completed my engineering,” says Shahbaz.

Apart from this, he is also working hard to upgrade his cricketing skills. Here too the results have gone in his favor to a large extent.

Bought back by Royal Challengers at auction in February, Shahbaz scored over 25 runs in each of his first five innings in this year’s IPL. It’s some consistency for a player batting mainly at No. 5 and 6. He hasn’t been as successful with the fingers of his left hand, but has thrown some easy spells.

Shahbaz’s strong side is the batting but in 2020, his first season with the Royal Challengers, he played only two games and faced just one ball. The next year he got a long run but could manage only 59 runs in seven innings at an average of 8.42 and a strike rate of 111.32.

While his return with the bat was not stellar, he did gain valuable insight into his craft. “I realized I was struggling to hit against the fast bowlers,” says Shahbaz. “Whenever I tried to hit the big shots, I ended up in an open-stance position. Simon Caticho [then Royal Challengers head coach] and mike hesson [director of cricket at the franchise] Sir told me that if I can keep my shape, I can score in any position. This time I have tried to do something similar.”

At RCB, he has also had the opportunity to pick the brains of two of the best hitters in T20 cricket. “Big players like AB de Villiers sir and Glenn Maxwell sir don’t talk much about technique,” says Shahbaz. “Whenever I spoke to him, it was about planning, situations and planning for different situations. What are good boundary options against fast bowlers and spinners. Or how to move up the scoreboard irrespective of the situation and create a platform where we can win matches.

It all ended after one crucial knock after another this season. And his strike rate against pace has increased from 125.00 last season to 143.01 this time.

batting first Against Delhi CapitalsRoyal Challengers scored 75 for 4, which soon became 92 for 5. Shahbaz and Karthik then added 97 runs in an unbroken sixth-wicket stand, taking Royal Challengers to the winning total.

“I enjoy batting with DK. [Karthik] Brother, He is very calm and calm even in pressure situations,” says Shahbaz, “He just says that we have to take the game deeper. If I had played the rash shot, he would have told me that it is not needed at this point of time. If I get a loose ball only then should I try for boundaries. Otherwise I should take a single, or even if it is a dot ball, it doesn’t matter. With him, you don’t feel any pressure because he can change the pace of the game in one over.”

Shahbaz referred to the Rajasthan Royals match in which Yuzvendra Chahal and R Ashwin strangled the batsmen on a spin-taking pitch. “I couldn’t figure out how to take the game deeper. Ashwin had one over left, and I was thinking of getting him out because it was easier to score against the fast bowlers. Then DK Brother Came and attacked Ashwin. The game completely changed in that one over.”

With Karthik needing 82 runs from 42 balls, Ashwin hit three fours and a six in his over of 21 runs. This was yet another lesson in cricket education for Shahbaz.

When he struggled with the bat in the 2021 IPL, it was his bowling that kept Shahbaz in the frame at RCB. He picked up seven wickets, including a change of 3 for 7 against Sunrisers HyderabadAt an economy of 6.57.

This year he has been assigned the role of the fifth bowler along with Maxwell. While he has been a bit expensive at times, he has 4-0-25-0. also cast a spell of Against Lucknow Super Giants, He brought his side back against Gujarat Titans by picking up the wickets of Shubman Gill and Hardik Pandya. gameAnd in his most recent match, against Chennai Super KingsHe broke the opening stand by dismissing in-form Ruturaj Gaikwad.

shahbaz credit s sriram, Royal Challengers’ batting and spin bowling coach, to give them confidence. “When I first came into the IPL, I had doubts whether my bowling skills were good enough for this level. But in the last two seasons, I have learned a lot from S Sriram on how to bowl to each and every batsman. How to get him out. He knows my bowling inside out.”

Shahbaz says the biggest improvement has been in his rhythm, which he struggled with. Sriram suggested speeding up his run-up, which helped in that aspect. It also had another advantage.

“Earlier, my bowling pace was very slow. If you bowl slow in IPL, the batsmen can always attack you. So my biggest concern was that I could limit my speed to 4-5 kmph. How can I increase? As I worked on my rhythm, my speed also increased.

“Now I aim for 94-95kph for my normal ball, and my slow ball is around 88-89kph. If I can maintain 95kph, it helps a lot in these conditions. Otherwise, Mumbai’s Inn On flat wickets, it is very difficult for the spinners.”

The conventional wisdom in T20 is that a left-handed fingerspinner is not as effective as a left-handed batsman. But Shahbaz is trying to up his game against left-handed batsmen as well.

“Ever since I started playing, I’ve bowled around the wicket. It’s a good option but now I’m bowling over the wicket to left-handers too. Because that gives you a lot of options, And the more options you have, the more you can control the game.

“If you’re bowling over the wicket, you can bowl wide from outside. If there’s some turn available, you can turn from outside. Then the lefty has only one option – on the ground To hit. Leg-side option no longer available.

“From the top of the wicket, you can also bowl over the leg-stump line, which is effective this season as most games are being played on side wickets due to limited spaces. So one square boundary is usually bigger than the other. It is difficult for left handed players to hit the leg side [if that’s the bigger boundary], It also creates more wicket-taking options.”

While Shahbaz is strengthening his bowling, he enjoys batting more and wants to make more impact. At the top of his to-do list is watching the game with the bat till the end.

“In domestic cricket, I have finished some close games, so I have that experience. Against KKR, we were chasing 127. [129], and I scored 27 runs in tough conditions but then I got out. sky lamp [Bengal and Royal Challengers team-mate] Told me, ‘You could have ended the game but you lost your wicket in a bad shot. What happened?’ I told him that it was my first innings in the IPL where I batted well. The more experience I have with batting in this position, the more games I can finish for the team.

“Right now, I’m mostly playing supporting roles for DK BrotherBut there will come a time when I have to finish the game on my own. I am ready and looking forward to that time.”

Hemant Brar is the Sub-Editor at ESPNcricinfo

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