December 2018
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Shahbaz Nadeem claims eight wickets; breaks List A world record
(Vadodara, Sep 20, 2018):THERE’S ALWAYS been one strict rule in Shahbaz Nadeem’s cricket-mad family: “No cricket on the dinner table”. It’s a family diktat that the left-arm spinner has utilised often over the last couple of years to lift or at least divert their mood every time an Indian squad is announced without his name in it. “If anything, they would get more upset than me. They’d see the news and quietly go off to sleep all grumpy. So that night I would take them all out for dinner,” he’d once told this paper.

On Thursday, the first words Nadeem uttered on answering the phone were about taking his Jharkhand teammates out for dinner. He had already given them half the day off in Chennai by single-handedly finishing their match against Rajasthan well before time. He insists that the “no cricket” rule will apply here too, but isn’t sure whether his dinner companions will heed to it. Not on a day he’s broken a world record that stood for two decades with near-magical figures of 8/10, the best ever in a List A match anywhere in the world. For good measure, the spell also contained a hat-trick.

“I just want to celebrate this achievement. It’s very special to break a world record. So I’m guessing there will be some cricket talk taking place unfortunately,” Nadeem tells The Indian Express with a chuckle.

Nadeem has followed another routine over his lengthy domestic career, which stretches back to 2005 when he made his debut as a 15-year-old for his state team. Every time he wins his team a match or captures a bagful of wickets, the 29-year-old sits down and spends a few quiet moments with himself. He wasn’t afforded that luxury for too long on Thursday though with his phone ringing off the dial.

“It doesn’t matter though. I think about life differently now. I consider this spell as another step towards achieving my ultimate dream, of playing for India,” he says. It’s a dream that has alluded him for way too long, according to many, especially after he became only the second bowler in Indian history to snare over 50 wickets in back-to-back seasons last year. And there were times, and understandably so, when Nadeem too would get sucked into a mindset of despair.

“Yeah, alone in my room I’m always fighting for a place. What else do I need to do to play for India? But then, that’s when my father’s words would come to mind -‘if it’s written in your destiny, then you will play for India’. This despite him being more desperate than me for the dream to come true,” says Nadeem has already played 99 first-class matches and has 589 wickets across all formats. Funnily enough, it was Nadeem who had to remind his father about the “destiny-related” philosophy when he last took his family out for one of those spirit-lifting meals. That came early last year in Muzzafarpur, where his father lives now as a retired DSP.

Nadeem’s family stretches well beyond his parents and an elder brother, who sacrificed his own cricket career to ensure the baby of the house got a chance to make the most of his. Nadeem is the youngest of five children, and has three elder sisters in addition to Assad Iqbal, who captained Bihar under-15s and was selected for quite a few trials for the India under-15 and under-17 sides.

Striking a balance

Nadeem often dedicates his performances to his brother, and loves recalling the incident when Assad decided to give up on his cricket overnight, despite having his tickets booked to leave for a national junior trial the next day. But it turns out, it was Nadeem who quit cricket first to adhere to his family’s wishes of a balance between sporting and academic pursuits.

“In around 2002, after I’d already played under-17s for Bihar, I just quit. My father was posted in Bokaro then. My brother’s cricket was going great so I said aap khel lo. And when my name popped up in the newspaper for the state under-15 camp, I was reluctant but my parents felt I should give it a shot. I had to go looking for my kit, and I hadn’t touched a ball for 8-9 months,” he recalls.

Nadeem took 20 wickets in three matches. His 10-wicket haul against Assam was witnessed by then national chief selector Dilip Vengsarkar who asked the boy to show up for the under-17 national trials in Bangalore. “The problem was I had told my parents I will try it out only for a month. But here I was playing for India, and there was no turning back,” he says.

The scrawny and diminutive boy would start representing his state while still in school. “I was in fifth standard when I played for the under-17 team, and in the ninth when I played Ranji,” says Nadeem. “That’s why a lot of my peers think I’m much older than I am. I’ve just been around for that long,” he adds as a disclaimer. And though he’s yet to get where he wants, the regularity with which he’s started playing for India A has filled him with a lot more confidence that he’s closer than ever before.

Nadeem says that his lengthy wait for a national call-up has become a theme to his career of late, but it never affects him on the field. It’s only “when my head touches the pillow” that it hits me. “But tonight I will hit the bed with happier thoughts, like our celebratory dinner,” he signs off.

Brief Scores: Jharkhand 76/ 3 in 14.3 overs (Anand Singh 22, Mahipal Lomror 2/22) defeat Rajasthan 73 in 28.3 overs (Ankit Lamba 20, Anukul Roy 2/23, Shahbaz Nadeem 8/10) lost to by seven wkts.

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