Indian cricketer in focus: Shami Ahmed – Rising above the ordinary

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For the ordinary, unanticipated fortune is a luxury. Fairy tale luck is a monopoly of the special ones who can afford it. For the run of the mill slogger, who banks on gradual rising through the ranks, opportunities are few and far between.

Hailing from Uttar Pradesh and playing for Bengal, Mohammed Shami Ahmed is one of those unrecognizable faces in Indian cricket who remain on the opposite pole of limelight. His is yet another ordinary story in Indian cricket where the emergence of the cricketer depends solely on how well he manages to make use of his limited opportunities.

There come, in a cricketer’s life, certain stages where he is forced to take life-changing decisions which he remains indebted to for life. With no senior national cricketer or present Board official to back him, Shami Ahmed’s decision of leaving home in Amroha for Bengal was perhaps one he would cherish forever.

Urged by his coach, Badruddin Siddiqui, Ahmed played club matches for Bengal before being selected for the Under-22 and senior Bengal T20 squads which was followed by a break in the Ranji Trophy. His consistent efforts resulting into decent success meant the national jersey wasn’t far enough.

However, with India performing well with regular strike bowlers, Ahmed established himself as more of a seasoned bench-warmer for the side. Finally, on January 6 this year, in the third ODI against Pakistan, the India cap beckoned an elated Ahmed, who went on to prove his worth with an inspired performance.

As an Indian cricketer, Ahmed enjoys the elusive lack of publicity which most of his celebrity teammates yearn for. Little has been written about the 23-year-old whose emergence in the Indian scheme of things has been extraordinarily usual in these days of sudden bursts of talent. Possessing neither the raw pace of a Varun Aaron or the lethal swing of a Bhuvneshwar Kumar, his is an enigmatic story of success.

Ahmed burst into the scene with a decent performance against Assam in 2010 which included three wickets. After picking up 14 wickets in eight T20 games for Bengal, he caught the eyes of Kolkata Knight Riders franchise, for whom he debuted in the Indian Premier League.

As a reward for a good domestic season, Ahmed was selected for the West Indies-bound India A squad last year. The Caribbean islands proved lucky for the medium pacer as he marched on to grab the headlines for a 73 run partnership for the tenth wicket with Cheteshwar Pujara.

A promising seamer, Ahmed makes up for his lack of lethality with his accuracy and miserly economy. His tendency of bowling tight lines to frustrate the batsmen and occasionally moving the ball away from the right-hander proves effective in limited over matches as is evident from his remarkable debut in national colors against Pakistan.

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With inexperience looming over him, he managed to sustain the pressure of a low-scoring tie as he returned with an economy rate of 2.55 in nine overs that included four maidens and the record of being the first Indian to do so on his ODI debut.

With the Indian team boasting of established and specialized talent, Ahmed, with his dearth of creative uniqueness, seemed to be a misfit. He wasn’t a commercialized product of the IPL like Ravindra Jadeja or Ajinkya Rahane; his claim to reluctant fame was typically orthodox. It was domestic cricket that spat him into the big stage as he capitalized on every half chance that came his way.

The backdrop of his dream debut for India was firmly set by his spectacular performances in the Ranji Trophy that season. His impressive haul of 28 wickets in only five matches, including two ten-wicket match hauls against Madhya Pradesh and Hyderabad, proved adequate enough to earn him a place in the Indian dressing room.

Having an experience of only 15 first class games till then, even the desperate optimists expected him to squander away his opportunity. But Ahmed nurtured something else in his mind as he went to impress the selectors and critics alike in his very first international match.

“He called me in the morning of the match to inform that he was playing and sounded nervous. I told him to treat it as a Ranji Trophy match where he is bowling for Bengal. What made me proud is that he bowled four successive maidens,” reveals Ahmed’s coach.

The tour of Zimbabwe may prove to be the biggest break of Shami’s international career. Boasting of uncapped names, the squad is expected to provide much needed exposure to Ahmed’s abilities and one only hopes that he capitalizes on this opportunity like always.

Clearly, the stakes have turned for the medium pacer who looks set to prove himself better than being just a bench-warmer. While the name comes with a guarantee of miserly economy, the tour will be deemed perfect if his characteristic run-up manages to rattle a few stumps.

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