“Jung jaari hai (the fight is on). One day, they will come and pick you for the Indian team,” Shahbaz Nadeem’s father Javed Mahmood told his younger son. Nadeem’s response was, “I won’t give up. I’m playing for India A, and will play for India one day.”
Javed recounted the conversation the day Nadeem eventually made his Test debut, that too on his home patch. The left-arm spinner was drafted in as cover for the injured Kuldeep Yadav, who had a sore shoulder. As India batting coach Vikram Rathour said, the team management wanted to go with three spinners on this JSCA Stadium pitch. So Nadeem replaced Ishant Sharma in the playing XI.
Nadeem personifies perseverance. He made his first-class debut in 2004 and over the next 15 seasons, through 110 first-class matches, has picked 424 wickets. Last year, the Jharkhand spinner rewrote record books in List A cricket, when he picked eight wickets for 10 runs against Rajasthan in the Vijay Hazare Trophy. He had three five-fors in four innings during India A’s tour of the West Indies earlier this year. But the 30-year-old was striving to reach the next level.
Nadeem’s family already had to deal with a budding cricketer giving up the game in frustration. Nadeem’s elder brother Asad Iqbal decided to pursue a career in engineering, when he wasn’t picked for the India colts. “Asad was the first cricketer in our family. He even became the East Zone U-19 captain. He was an all-rounder. But when uncertainty loomed, with regard to his cricket career, we decided that it would be too risky if both my sons took up cricket as a career. Do beta hain, dono barbad ho jayenge to hum logon ko budhapa mein kaun dekhega (we have two sons and if both their careers are destroyed, who would look after us when we got old),” Javed told The Sunday Express. A retired police officer, he was transferred from Muzaffarpur to Dhanbad when his sons were in school.
Asad sacrificed his cricketing ambition to ensure his younger brother could play the game without any pressure.
Nadeem was one of the fittest boys in his school, even when he was just 10 years old. His father attributed it to genetics. “I was a champion athlete at the university level. Shahbaz used to win all sprint events — 100m, 200m, 400m — when he was in Class IV or V. This is something which he got from me,” Javed said. Fitness has kept the Jharkhand spinner in the game for a long time.
Nadeem initially wanted to be a pace bowler but his childhood coach Imtiaz Hussain made him a spinner. “When he came to our coaching camp for the trial, I told him to bowl spin instead. I told him that with his physique and height, he couldn’t become a fast bowler. But I assured him that he could go far if he took up spin bowling,” Hussain told this paper.
At Tata Digwadih Stadium in Dhanbad, Nadeem had his first lessons in organised cricket, on a matting wicket. He progressed to play Ranji Trophy for Jharkhand but with his career still at a nascent stage, he decided to move to Kolkata and joined Town Club, with an eye to play for Bengal. Things didn’t work out as planned and Nadeem decided to return home.
According to Hussain, former Jharkhand State Cricket Association (JSCA) president and current BCCI acting secretary Amitabh Choudhary helped Nadeem revive his career. “Amitabh Choudhary ensured that his talent didn’t go waste. Nadeem was given a chance to play for Jharkhand and he steadily rose through the ranks.”
Hussain described his ward as “obedient”. Only once did Nadeem receive a serious dressing-down from his coach. He was entering into adulthood, when for a while he lost focus. Hussain was initially reluctant to recall the incident, but eventually narrated it briefly.
“It was a different type of incident. Young ladke mein ladkiyon ka chakkar hota hai na, aisa hi kuch hua tha (young guys get attracted to girls). It wasn’t a big deal but I felt it would hamper his cricket. But that relationship didn’t work out. Later, he got married to a lady from Jharia.”
On Saturday, Nadeem received his Test cap from his skipper. “He was in Kolkata a couple of days back. Now he is playing a Test. Delighted for him,” Virat Kohli said at the toss.