Shahbaz Ahmed: From Missing SRH Trials to Unlocking Their Defences

The Quint
·5 min read

In cruise control with four overs to go and 35 needed to pick up their first points in IPL 2021, Sunrisers Hyderabad were well on course before Royal Challengers Bangalore’s rookie all-rounder Shahbaz Ahmed decided enough was enough!

Shahbaz rattled off an over that will be remembered by the Royal Challengers Bangalore family for years to come – 3 wickets and 1 run. Shahbaz, in only his 4th IPL match, sent Jonny Bairstow, Manish Pandey, and Abdul Samad packing to turn the game on its head in Chennai in the 17th over. He finished with figures of 3/7 apart from a catch and 14 useful runs batting at No 3, a position alien to him.

Interestingly, SRH had called Shahbaz for trials before IPL 2020 but he could not make it due to a Ranji Trophy game.

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Shahbaz, who plays for Bengal in first-class cricket had made more than a few handy contributions with the bat and ball to turn games around, did it yet again, on the big stage – in the high-octane arena of the IPL.

The 26-year-old all-rounder was aware of the situation and took advantage of the conditions that were helping the spinners, and suffocated SRH, who collapsed after their captain David Warner was dismissed.

“It was a very tough situation. But the captain trusted in my ability, and I managed to perform well. So I want to thank my captain. He gave me the 17th over because the wicket was gripping a bit. That helped my bowling, and I was successful in taking those wickets,” Shahbaz Ahmed said after he single-handedly derailed SRH’s chase.

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Why Kohli Turned to Shahbaz

Born in Mewat, Haryana, the all-rounder who made his first-class debut for Bengal in 2018 is quite literally a complete package.

Earmarked by VVS Laxman to play a Ravindra Jadeja-esque role for Bengal before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Shahbaz has long wanted to emulate Ben Stokes.

And he did, dragging Bengal out of the group stages with an unbeaten half-century and two wickets against Rajasthan before the team finished as runners-up. Shahbaz batting with numbers 9, 10 and 11 needed to score 112 and he led from the front as Bengal won by 2 wickets.

Bengal coach Arun Lal considers him to be the heart of the team and acknowledged the energy and belief he carried with him, leading Bengal’s run-in through the knockout stages from the front.

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In the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy in 2019/20, Shahbaz finished with 10 wickets from 7 games with an economy under 6 and a strike rate of 15.6 before the Ranji Trophy, where he finished as the joint-highest wicket-taker for Bengal.

The rookie all-rounder had the wherewithal and the momentum going for him before the pandemic brought the world to a halt in 2020. Shahbaz, who was signed on by RCB before IPL 2020, was confident that he would do well once cricket resumed.

Kohli’s decision on the night against SRH was one of that showed faith in the youngster, who grabbed his chance with panache, in a T20 World Cup year.

Shahbaz Ahmed celebrates a wicket during Royal Challengers Bangalore’s match against Sunrisers Hyderabad.
Shahbaz Ahmed celebrates a wicket during Royal Challengers Bangalore’s match against Sunrisers Hyderabad.

The Early Days

For the Haryana man it hadn’t been an easy journey through the ranks. Born in one of the state’s more backward districts, Shahbaz had to work extremely hard.

"From there, I moved to Palwal district in Haryana for my first academy. Then I played for Gurgaon district for a few years before the chances ran out. That is when I moved here, to Kolkata (2015)," Ahmed had told ESPNCricinfo.

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"I had a friend here, Pramod Chandila, who played for Bengal. He brought me here. I think the best club cricket in India is here, so that's what I came to play. I did well there and that's how I've ended up in the Bengal team."

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From then on in, he put in the hard yards, got told off by coaches and went back to the drawing board only to return as a menace for oppositions.

He was the cornerstone for Bengal in possibly their best season (2019/20) in a decade, and it was probably why Mike Hesson and Virat Kohli trusted him.

(With inputs from ESPNCricinfo)

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