County cricket January 26, 2013

Shahzad aims to put regrets behind him

Jon Culley
Ajmal Shahzad, looking to reawaken his career with Notts, admits he was "stubborn" in the stand-off that saw him leave Yorkshire, but he is burning to show them what they are missing

Trent Bridge shivers under a blanket of snow but in the picture in Ajmal Shahzad's mind it is April, the grass is vibrantly green, he has a new ball in his hand and a statement to make. When that day finally comes there will be no Nottinghamshire bowler more eager to set his standards high, in Shahzad's case to relaunch a career that he feels stalled when he left the field in Chittagong after England's defeat to Bangladesh in the 2011 World Cup.

It was not only his last appearance in international cricket - the following week he would be on a plane home after a recurrence of a hamstring injury - but the start of a turbulent year that culminated last May in an all-too-familiar Yorkshire bloodbath when it was announced that Shahzad could look for a new club, after he was accused by the chairman, Colin Graves, in an extraordinary public attack, of playing for himself rather than for the team.

Eight months on, Shahzad has asked enough questions of himself to conclude that it was a divorce with faults on both sides. But while he accepts he was "stubborn" in the way he resisted Yorkshire's attempts to curb his natural instincts as a bowler, it is an admission that does not amount to repentance.

"I've always seen myself as an attacking, aggressive bowler," he said. "I always wanted to take the new rock, bowling short, sharp bursts, intimidating batsmen and hopefully getting a few wickets. That had always been the way I bowled from the start of my career but it came to a point at Yorkshire when I wasn't being given the new ball and instead was being asked to do more of a holding role, bowling line and length.

"Don't get me wrong, that job has to be done. But with my natural attributes - skiddy quick, having a good yorker, a bouncer and a few tricks up my sleeve, things that served me well when I had my best season for Yorkshire - I wanted to be given my head and it frustrated me when that didn't happen. When the new ball was taken off me, it hurt.

"It all came to a head when I was told Yorkshire did not intend to play me again in any of the teams. There was a clash of personalities but there had been problems that had been niggling underneath for about a year before I left."

The clash of personalities came with Jason Gillespie, Yorkshire's Australian coach. Gillespie's attitude seemed to change dramatically as he began his first season in the job. Shahzad's axing came only a week after Gilllespie had described him as "a fantastic bowler" but it soon became clear their differences were irreconcilable.

Shahzad regrets that the relationship did not flourish. "I wish I could have worked longer with Jason Gillespie, wish I could have picked his brain more because he is a legend of the game. Maybe we would have gelled a bit better, maybe he would have got to know me better and the way that I work.

"But whether you are a legend or just a mediocre player, coaching is all about managing your players. I wish he would have handled me and one or two of the other lads a bit differently and got to know me a bit more. And I would have got to know him a bit better."

If he was disappointed over Gillespie, he was especially dismayed over the chairman's comments, not only those that came with the parting of ways but the previous autumn, too, when Yorkshire were relegated and Graves said that the county's England players had "let us down".

"What was quite upsetting is that when he sat down and spoke to me face to face he never had a bad word to say," Shahzad said. "It was hard to read, hard to stomach.

"When I had a bad season for Yorkshire in 2011, I had ankle problems. I kept having injections and had surgery at the end of the year. I was half-fit and didn't do as well as I would have liked. So getting slated at the end of the year for not pulling my weight was out of order.

"When Colin gave his press conference at Scarborough after I had been told I could go, I felt he made some rash comments. But I know the kind of character he is, passionate about his cricket. He is a typical Yorkshireman, saying what was on his mind, as we all do, saying things we probably shouldn't.

"It could have been handled better from both sides. I was a little bit stubborn, didn't want to give in, and it was the same on the management side. I wish I could turn back time and smooth it all out and play it a different way but that's the way it was, and now I'm at Notts, it's a fresh start."

It seems like a good match, given Nottinghamshire's lack of a cutting-edge strike bowlers since England claimed Stuart Broad and Ryan Sidebottom rejoined Yorkshire. Yet neither party was the other's first choice. Shahzad would have been happy to continue with Lancashire, where he saw out last season, while Notts' coach Mick Newell had hoped to recruit the coveted former Glamorgan pace bowler James Harris, only to lose out to Middlesex.

"I wanted to stay at Lancs," Shahzad said. "It was quite close to home, they are a good bunch of lads, Peter Moores is a great coach. But it just came down to the length of deal really.

"Mick came in quite late for me but he laid his cards on the table. He told me they were hoping to get Harris, but that if he didn't come they wanted me and they would do it quickly, on a three-year deal. It's not that far from home, an hour and 15 minutes up the M1. It's a great place to play cricket for a bowler, so it has panned out well."

Resuming his England career is at the top of his priorities. "I had my Test against Bangladesh in 2010 that I thought went well, that I bowled nicely. I got into the T20 and one-day set-ups and every time I played, I think I did well. But I picked up a hamstring strain in the World Cup from trying too hard and just drifted away from it after that.

"I was trying to get my form back in England but I had my ankle impingement at the time and it was always sore and that, combined with the troublesome time I was having at Yorkshire, did not really help. It put me on a downward spiral.

"But that's another good thing about being here, to play alongside top-class players who are in the England set-up and playing in international tournaments. If I can do well against these guys in the nets and stand out amongst some of the best it can get me back in the spotlight because I still have massive ambitions and I think my best is still to come."

The move has meant leaving the family home in Bradford for the first time. "It has made me grow up a bit, moving - and knowing I have the responsibility now of being a senior player at 27," he said, although he is planning to rein himself no more than he feels is necessary when the ball is in his hand.

"Mick has told me exactly where he wants me to fit into his plans and I'm very happy with that. He wants me to take the new ball in one-day cricket and four-day cricket as well, batting at No. 8 hopefully, as an allrounder - because I can bat.

"I'll still bowl aggressively, still try to make things happen and use the skills I have to do that but try to use that yorker as a shock delivery rather than feeling I have to bowl one every over. I want to set the right standard as the senior bowler taking the new ball."

Home now for Shahzad is a stylish apartment overlooking the Trent in an exclusive complex where Sven Goran Eriksson used to rest his head while Notts County were occupying his attention. Some might wish Shahzad had more in common temperamentally with the unflappable former England football manager. Then again, when has there been a fiery Yorkshire bowler with the off-field demeanour of a cool Swede? It simply wouldn't happen.