30 is hardly an age for a cricketer to make his international debut, more so in India where players often start young. But if there is one man who deserves it more than anyone else, it is Shahbaz Nadeem, the left-arm spinner, from Jharkhand. Having been on the fringes for a while, Nadeem finally got his chance when India took the field against South Africa in the third Test in Ranchi.
For someone who has often been on the wrong side of destiny, the call-up came as a welcome surprise. Kuldeep Yadav pulled up with a shoulder strain on the eve of the Ranchi Test and Nadeem, who just three days ago was playing for Jharkhand in Vijay Hazare Trophy at Alur was shunted into the side. It is in some ways it is fitting that he gets to make his debut in front of his home crowd.
Nadeem’s journey has been of toil, dedication and years of perseverance on the domestic circuit. He made his First-Class debut in the 2004-05 Ranji season as a 15-year-old and has since been Jharkhand’s lynchpin. Although he has been amongst the wickets all along, it wasn’t until the 2012-13 Ranji Trophy season that he made people stand up and take notice of his talent. He finished the season with 42 wickets, the fourth-highest wicket-taker that season at an average of 25.97 in nine matches.
But it was the 2015-16 season that really opened the doors for Nadeem. He was the highest wicket-taker that season in Ranji Trophy finishing with 51 scalps in nine outings at a phenomenal average of 19.62. Nadeem wasn’t done though. He bettered it with 56 wickets at 25.60 in the 2016-17 season, becoming only the second bowler after Hyderabad’s Kanwaljit Singh to scalp 50 wickets in consecutive Ranji seasons.
Jharkhand qualified for the Ranji trophy semi-final for the very first time that year and Nadeem had a huge role to play in that. In fact, since the 2015-16 Ranji season Nadeem has more wickets - 144 in 27 outings at 23.6 - than anyone else during this time. In all, Nadeem’s First-Class statistics read an impressive 424 wickets in 110 games at an average of 28.59.
Nadeem has been a model of consistency in domestic cricket. In the age where bowlers try out variations aplenty, the 30-year-old has stuck to the basics following the age-old concept of bowling stump to stump and beating the batsman in the air.
“I only focus on line and length. If you are getting that right, with the variation in flight, I feel you can get wickets on any surface,” Nadeem told Cricketnext late last year.
He has walked the talk and with aplomb. And it is not just Ranji Trophy that he has excelled in. Nadeem’s exploits have seen him be a regular feature for India A over the last few years. He picked up seven wickets in the two-match series against England Lions in January this year and then returned as the highest wicket-taker for India A in the series that followed against West Indies A in June.
He picked up with 15 scalps in two outings there at an average of 16 which included three five-fors in four innings. Nadeem also picked 8 wickets in the two four-day games for India A against South Africa A prior to the Test series.
It is not just in First-Class cricket that Nadeem has been increasingly efficient. Just last year, he shattered the world record for the best-ever List A figures when he returned impeccable figures of 10-8-10-8 for Jharkhand against Rajasthan in a Vijay Hazare Trophy game. He received his maiden T20I call-up for India soon after for a three-match series against the West Indies but could not get a game as Krunal Pandya was preferred ahead of him.
At the Indian Premier League (IPL), Nadeem made his debut for Delhi Capitals in 2011 and had been with them since before Sunrisers Hyderabad snapped him up during the 2019 auction. Nadeem is also a handy lower-order batsman and has seven half-centuries and a hundred to his name.
With 667 wickets across formats, there are few who deserve a national call-up and Nadeem will hope he does his hometown proud when he finally gets his hands on the ball at some stage.