Shahzad hopeful of making Test debut
Ajmal Shahzad could be in line to make his Test debut against Bangladesh at Old Trafford on Friday, following the foot injury to Tim Bresnan that ruled him out of the reckoning and created a fast-bowling vacancy in the side that won the first Test at Lord's by eight wickets on Monday.
Shahzad faces competition from Ryan Sidebottom, who was called into the squad following the announcement of Bresnan's stress fracture on Tuesday, but having toured Bangladesh without being given an opportunity to play in either of the Tests at Dhaka or Chittagong, Shahzad is hopeful that this time he'll get his chance to impress.
"I'm ready to go, if the nod is given to me. I'm as ready as I'll ever be," Shahzad told reporters at Old Trafford. "I hadn't been involved with the England circuit at all, apart from with the performance programme in South Africa, so it was a big hit for me [to be picked to go to Bangladesh last winter] - and I really enjoyed it out there.
"It was difficult conditions and made me wake up and think 'not all wickets are going to be bouncy, quick - and it's not always going to swing and seam'. You have to put some hard graft in and work at other areas of your game. I've learned a lot from being there and in the West Indies. I've got stronger shoulders from carrying drinks - but I've learned a lot 'up here'."
If he does get to play, Shahzad is aware that all the focus will be on his colleague, Steven Finn, who ripped through Bangladesh with nine wickets at Lord's, and seems sure to be promoted to take the new ball alongside James Anderson.
"Finny's come on the scene and performed superbly well," said Shahzad. "Obviously, with his extra height, he's got something to offer that Andy [Flower] likes. I've seen the boys progress, and what it takes at international level. So I know what I need to do. I think the only way I can really do that is out there on the pitch."
With the notable exception of Finn, Flower was critical of the performance of England's bowlers at Lord's, but seeing as many of the squad went into the match straight off the back of their successful World Twenty20 campaign in the Caribbean, a bit of five-day rustiness was inevitable.
"We have just come off the back of a one-day competition so it will always be difficult to adjust," said Shahzad. "There has not been a lot of red ball practice, but we saw Jimmy [Anderson] coming into a rhythm at the end of the first innings at Lord's and Finny [Steven Finn] burst on to the scene and did very well. Bresnan had a bit of trouble but when he comes back from his injury he will be better for the experience."
One of Shahzad's early challenges could well be to keep Tamim Iqbal under control, after he lit up Lord's with a thrilling 94-ball hundred during Bangladesh's second innings. Shahzad has previous in that regard, having bagged Tamim for a first-over duck during his ODI debut at Chittagong in March, but is under no illusions about the task that could await him.
"I like the way he plays, and I would prefer someone to play like that rather than block against me," he said. "It was nice to sit at home and watch him play. If I get the nod hopefully I can get him out early doors."
Tamim, for his part, credited his coach, Jamie Siddons, for giving him the licence and the confidence to bat in his own unfettered style. "When I started playing Test cricket I was in two minds whether to go slow or go fast - and originally I decided to go slow," he said.
"It was not working for me. My first 10 Tests were not good - I think I only got two fifties. The coaches said to play like I do in the ODIs and enjoy my batting - 'We will not say anything to you'. I know the way I bat sometimes looks fantastic, and sometimes looks ugly, but I am happy with the way I play my natural game."