From making his first-class debut at the age of 15, to finally earning his maiden Test cap at the age of 30, Shahbaz Nadeem’s journey is one to marvel at.
In a team which boasts of two of world’s top-ranked Test spinners in Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja – and with both of them competing for one spot in overseas conditions – getting through to this national squad is no easy feat. In the background, for so long, has been Nadeem, taking wicket after wicket. Twenty-nineteen has seen him really stamp his mark, though.
The left-arm spinner bagged seven wickets in two matches against England Lions in February this year, at an average of 24.57. In India A’s next tour to the West Indies in July-August, he grabbed 15 wickets at an average of 16 from two Tests. He followed it up with powerful performances against South Africa A at home last month, with eight wickets from two games at a remarkably healthy average of 16.75.
Since the start of the 2012 season, Shahbaz Nadeem has taken 235 Ranji Trophy wickets at 25.17 – more than anyone else in the competition.
— Wisden (@WisdenCricket) October 18, 2019
And so, a spot in the national side wasn’t far away, and Kuldeep Yadav’s dodgy shoulder paved the way for the 30-year-old to make his first Test appearance in the third and final Test against South Africa at his home ground in Ranchi. Nadeem bagged two wickets in the first innings, with Temba Bavuma, the Proteas vice-captain being his maiden Test scalp.
“It feels good to be rewarded for all the years of hard work, and getting to make my debut on my home ground was the most special feeling,” Nadeem said in a conversation with host broadcasters at the end of third day’s play on Monday, October 21. “Getting the cap has a different value, that too on the home ground. I was excited, and a bit emotional too, but then I concentrated on what I had to do in the game.
“I was nervous for the first three balls, especially during my run-up. My nerves settled during the fourth ball. As a left-arm spinner, to get a batsman (Bavuma) stumped is one of the best wickets to get.”
The fitting end to a memorable debut was yet to come. With India just two wickets away from completing a 3-0 whitewash over the Proteas, Virat Kohli tossed the ball to the local boy, who struck twice in his first over of the day to grab the glory moment. The skipper couldn’t be more impressed.
“I have played with Nadeem during my Under-19 cricket days and from that time we all knew that he is a skilful bowler,” Kohli said. “He possesses the skill which a conventional left bowler has, his seam position is very good, bowls at a good pace.
Get to know the man who, after years of toil, will bowl his first ball in international cricket tomorrow.https://t.co/fltgQDVRcD
— Wisden (@WisdenCricket) October 19, 2019
“In life, things take a sudden change, two days ago he was in Kolkata and then suddenly he was included in the team. He remained not out with the bat, contributed with a brilliant run-out and bowled well in both the innings, I am very happy for him because I know him since a long time, and of course, he is a quality bowler. To come as a replacement in a spin attack like ours already shows his quality in spin bowling. I think he will further build his career from here onwards.”
Nadeem made his first-class debut back in 2004 and has bagged 428 wickets from 111 games since then at an impressive average of 28.42. He topped the wicket-taking charts with 51 scalps in 2015/16 Ranji Trophy and bettered his performance with 56 wickets the following year, becoming only the second bowler to register more than 50 scalps in two consecutive seasons. He raised his performances a notch higher in 2018, returning 8-10 in a Vijay Hazare fixture against Rajasthan in Chennai, the best-ever figures in List A history
And yet, he was far away from a spot in the national side, with Ashwin and Jadeja being at the peak of their powers, veteran Amit Mishra waiting in the wings and the young Kuldeep rising through the ranks.
Siri, sum up South Africa’s tour to India with one dismissal. pic.twitter.com/4YvWYHXHeb
— Wisden (@WisdenCricket) October 22, 2019
When it finally came together on his debut after nearly 15 years of toil, Nadeem’s hard work reflected in his impeccable discipline with the ball. So much so that Ravi Shastri, India’s head coach, was reminded of the great Bishan Singh Bedi, who is regarded as one of the finest exponents of the art.
“Extremely impressed. Yesterday when he got his first wicket, I was saying ‘If Bishan Singh Bedi was watching, he would’ve said ‘cheers young man’. It was a spinner’s delight,” said Shastri who himself bagged 151 Test wickets with his left-arm spin.
“To watch it from the outside was classical. 420 plus wickets, the guy has put in the yards, about time he gets the distance,” Shastri continued. “Glad he finished off the game in front of his home crowd. What was remarkable was the way he started. There was no nerves, first three overs were maidens. Every ball was on the spot. That’s because of his experience.”
? RECORD ALERT ?
— Wisden (@WisdenCricket) October 22, 2019
Only the third player from Jharkhand to play Test cricket for India after MS Dhoni and Varon Aaron, Nadeem’s future in India’s Test team is less than secure – such is the nature of being a spinner in a county that supplies so many.
If the upcoming Tests against Bangladesh do go ahead, Nadeem should be retained; to then get himself to New Zealand will be an even stiffer challenge. The 2019 Ranji season beginning in December presents a perfect opportunity for the Jharkhand spinner to keep himself in the groove.