“I want to be like Ben Stokes for the team - trustworthy enough to win the match for the team in all types of situations,” Shahbaz Ahmed said during the Ranji season where he shone for Bengal with telling performances. At 25 years of age, this is just Shahbaz’s second year of senior professional cricket but is aceing a difficult role – an all-rounder who digs the team out under pressure and takes wickets with his immaculate spin-bowling.
"He's the heart of our team right now. He's the core of our team. He's single-handedly won us four games. The crux of the matter is when you're 46 for 5, he goes and gets 80-odd runs, has a 150-run partnership. When it's a turning track he gets runs. He didn't get us runs in Punjab, but he got us 11 wickets,” Arun Lal, the Bengal coach said during the season.
Shahbaz’s qualities and match-winning capabilities in the Ranji season were evident from his 35 wickets in the season – joint-highest for them – and handy knocks with the bat. In T20s, he hasn’t quite made a major impression but his handy left-arm spin completes Bangalore’s attack in the Indian T20 League.
Bangalore have a potent bowling attack this season with a good mix of pacers and spinners. They forced in a change for the fixture against Rajasthan on Saturday and the uncapped Indian T20 League player Shahbaz started for them. It was a surprising call for many given that Dube had done a fine job with the ball (and could potentially bat big too).
But, there was a sound logical reason for Bangalore to play the additional spin option in Dubai.
In their previous games this year at Dubai, Bangalore’s spinners fared much better in comparison to the pacers.
Pace - 16 dismissals at 35.88 and economy of 9.46
Spin – 11 dismissals at 27.0 and economy of 7.62
Shahbaz adds a left-arm option that makes the Bangalore attack nearly complete with all kinds of major bowlers.
New ball and death bowlers (Saini, Morris)
Left-arm pacer (Udana)
Shahbaz (slow left-arm spinner)
To have that kind of variety in your bowling attack in T20s is not just a blessing but also a means to play to match-ups.
He came on to bowl when Steven Smith and Jos Buttler were at the wicket in the 9th over. Both right-handers, Shahbaz would turn the ball away from them and with Smith having a weakness against slow left-arm spinners, it was a perfect ploy.
Shahbaz bowled just two overs in the game and aside from a stunning catch in the deep, had little to do the entire game. But, expect him to become a vital cog in the Bangalore team this season going forward.
The slowing surfaces in UAE will bring his variation more into play and his late-order batting will also add depth to the Bangalore line-up.
Feature image courtesy: Twitter.com / @imshahbaz77