County news March 31, 2012

'I'm no cheat' - Shahzad

A reprimand for damaging the pitch compounded Ajmal Shahzad's disappointing 2011 but he is ready to put in the hard graft as Yorkshire seek promotion

Ajmal Shahzad wants to put a horrific 2011 behind him as part of a Yorkshire side aiming to make a quick return to Division One of the Championship.

As well as feeling the fury that met Yorkshire's relegation, Shahzad's position on the fringes of the England side disappeared as his bowling deteriorated amid the struggle to combat a long-standing ankle injury first suffered on England's 2010-11 Ashes tour.

To make matters worse, his personal reputation also suffered as he was found guilty of a pitch-scuffing incident at Edgbaston. By the end of the season, with only 25 Championship wickets to his name at 41 runs apiece, one of county cricket's most ebullient figures cast a forlorn figure.

Shahzad was severely reprimanded and fined £750 ($1,200) by an ECB disciplinary panel for scuffing the pitch in a late-season match at Edgbaston, an impromptu act that summed up the frustrations of a season in which Yorkshire's reputation as the brightest young side in the country collapsed and Shahzad also fell out of form and favour.

One ankle operation later, he shakes his head in embarrassment at the memory. "It was just a stupid error by me," he said. "I went to Lord's for the hearing and I could see from the footage it was just incredibly stupid what I did. There wasn't even any point in doing it.

"It's not the way I want to play my game. I don't want to be seen as a cheat, or a pitch-damager. We were hoping to win that game; we needed to win it to stay up. It didn't really go the way we wanted it to go. Emotions and actions kind of just built up.

"What I did was stupid. But I have been reprimanded and been given the penalty for that. It's one mistake I've made in an eight- or nine-year career so far. It's out of the blue for me, and I definitely would never do anything like it again. It was just a random, stupid act."

Shahzad suffered for trying to play through his ankle pain with the help of two injections. His bowling action suffered, he lost his ability to swing the ball and he tried to compensate by quickening his pace. Yorkshire grumbled, without much justification, that he had lost focus and, as relegation became a reality, the chairman Colin Graves also had him on his hit list when he accused some players of turning in "unacceptable" performances.

"I played a bit more than half the season with a dodgy ankle," Shahzad said. "I was in a lot of pain, but just kept playing through it because I wanted to put my performances in for Yorkshire. In hindsight, I could have probably taken that time away and got it checked out. If I'd had it looked at during the season, had surgery then, it would have kept me out for that summer. I had the surgery in October and it feels good now."

Injury kept Shahzad out of England's winter squads, but he could not wait to pack his suitcase when he was invited to Dubai as net fodder for England during their one-day series against Pakistan and he played in all but one of Yorkshire's pre-season games in Barbados.

"It was just a nice feeling to be in and around the England team," he said. "It's been a year or two since I've felt that - enjoying their victories in the one-dayers and seeing again what kind of level I need to be at to get back into the squad if the opportunity comes.

"I feel as if I'm starting at the beginning again. Last season was tough. I tried to adapt the way I bowl to compensate for my ankle injury. I shouldn't have done that. But I was trying to get through a season, and minimise the pain.

"Last season was tough - I tried to adapt the way I bowl to compensate for my ankle injury but I shouldn't have"
Ajmal Shahzad

"Then there were instances where I probably tried to bowl a little bit too fast, change a little bit of my action to compensate for my ankle. But now I feel consistent with my action, my run-up, my landing - and that's come about with having my ankle pain-free.

"I'm 26, coming near to my peak and I want to keep progressing. I don't want to stagnate, I want to achieve the best I possibly can.

Graves' financial support has kept Yorkshire alive for several seasons, so he had quite literally earned his right to say his piece, but when he labelled the performances of some Yorkshire players on the day they went down as "a disgrace", it caused shockwaves throughout the county.

"There were some harsh words spoken," Shahzad said, "but at the end of the day, the stats are there for everybody to see. I've got my reasons for why it was so tough personally. If they didn't think I was fit to play then I shouldn't have been on the pitch.

"There were a few people, including myself, who did get a bit of a shock at the end of last season by a few words that were spoken by the owner of the club. That's the nature of the game. We've just got to crack on with what we do. We try our best every time we get on the pitch. There's not a point when we get on the pitch and think 'Oh, today's not the day for us' or 'I don't really feel it'.

"This is my job. I'm a fast bowler, who bats - and I go on to that pitch every day trying to take wickets and bowl as quick as I possibly can, and bowl well. I'm at the end of a three-year contract with Yorkshire. We've got some serious players in the squad. My personal ambition is to do well this season, and hope to get another contract offer from Yorkshire - and put some hard graft in."

Edited by Alan Gardner

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo