At the end of the second day, after he had taken a career best seven-wicket haul in Punjab’s first innings, the left-arm spinner Shahbaz Ahamad shied away from the Bengal coach Arun Lal. He had bundled out Punjab for 151 but Bengal had collapsed to 199 for 9 at stumps. A No.8 batsman, Ahamad had got out to a rash shot and felt he had let down Lal, a backer of his batting talents. Lal’s hopes of setting a bigger target was hit and he kept away from Ahamad for 25 minutes before chiding him for his shot. On Friday, chasing 190, Punjab had recovered from 37 for 5 to reach 100 without further loss before Ahamad took three more wickets – four in all – to push Bengal through to the knockouts.
His 11-wicket match haul was a major contributing factor in the triumph – Manoj Tiwari’s 73 and 65 in the two innings were priceless of course – and he was paraded on the shoulders of his team-mates when Lal gave a congratulatory pat on his back. In the last match, Ahamad had made his highest first-class score (61* against Rajasthan) and now delivered a match-winning contribution with the ball.
Valuable suggestions from R Ashwin during Deodhar Trophy earlier in the season has helped his bowling. “Ashwin bhai told me to work on the finishing aspect of my action and that has helped,” Ahamad says.
Chasing 190, after Bengal just added three runs more in the morning, Punjab had recovered from 37 for 5 to reach 100 without any additional loss. It was then that Ahamad, who had taken the fourth wicket, dragged Bengal back, taking three more to bundle out Punjab for 141.
Bengal had begun their defense of the 190-run target strongly, with the seamer Akash Deep striking twice in quick time. When Arnab Nandi removed Rohan Marwaha Punjab were reeling at 5 for 3 in 5.1 overs. Shahbaz Ahamad broke the 26-run stand between Punjab captain Mandeep Singh and Krishan Alang, a spinner who was promoted to bat at No. 5. Ahamad had trapped Mandeep lbw.
However, Punjab rallied through debutant Ramandeep Singh and Anmol Malhotra, moving from 37 for 5 to 100, when Ahamad stepped up. To counter the stiff winds that was upsetting his rhythm, he changed ends at the advice of his team members and struck with his first ball, trapping Malhotra lbw.
“We had a discussion at lunch time and the team thought I should bowl from the club end as the wind was hampering the ball’s planned trajectory. Once I got the wicket of Anmol Malhotra, we knew that we are back in the game and wickets fell,” Ahamad said. “The wicket was getting a bit slow and I knew that we, spinners, had to make extra effort as the ball wasn’t bouncing as much as it did yesterday.”
Ramandeep, who was out for zero in the first innings, fought hard with an unbeaten 69 but it didn’t prove enough. He added 21 runs with Abhishek Gupta and then 14 for the ninth wicket with Sidharth Kaul but the last two batsmen were run out off successive balls, and that was that.
“Yesterday, Arun Lal sir wanted me to carry my momentum in my batting too but I got out to a rash shot. He didn’t speak to me for some time afterwards. Thodi dant bhi padi thi baad main (he chided me later),” Ahamad says with a smile. Claiming Mandeep Singh’s wicket twice in the match and removing Anmol Malhotra in the second innings chase was the high point for me from the match.
Born in Haryana
Ahamad grew up in Shikrawa village in Nuh district in Haryana with a cricket-loving father Ahamad Jaan, a clerk in a sub-divisional magistrate’s office. Jaan would bowl for hours to his son before Ahamad graduated to playing in local clubs. He would later commute 78 kilometres daily in bus to train with coach Mansoor in Gurgaon at the Teri cricket ground. Sometime in 2015, at the advice of Haryana player Pramod Chandela, Ahamad shifted his base to Kolkata to play club cricket.
“I used to play in village as a mediumpacer but coach Mansoor told me to start bowling left-arm spin as I didn’t have much pace. But when I didn’t break into Haryana teams, a player Pramod Chandela bhai told me to try my luck in Kolkata. My father also agreed with that decision, asked me not to worry as the shift was to realise my dream. And when I made it to Bengal Ranji team last year, my family was so happy; they would call every day to ask about the matches,” Ahamad said.
He played just two matches last season, picking up two wickets, but he has performed consistently this season. He has taken 29 wickets and scored 216 runs that includes two fifties. His unbeaten 61 in the last game helped Bengal chase a 320-run target with two wickets to spare against Rajasthan. His selection to Deodhar Trophy, where he had chats with Ashwin, after he had taken four wickets and tallied 197 runs, including a hundred against Tamil Nadu, in a game in Vijay Hazare tournament.
“I have always spent time on my batting and playing for Bengal meant that I got chance to train under Arun Lal sir, VVS Laxman sir and Joydeep Mukherjee sir and it helped my batting. The fifty against Kerala had come on a difficult track and the pitch in the Rajasthan match too was a turning track.”
Ahamad watches a lot of videos of Ben Stokes as he wants to emulate by contributing with both bat and ball. “I am happy that my batting has also helped the team and I keep watching Ben Stokes videos to make my belief stronger that I can help my team like he does in every department. I also keep talking with my friends Pramod Chandela, Arun Chaprana and Rahul Tewatia and we often share inputs about each other’s game.”
The coach Lal is confident about the knockouts. “We are a flexible team and with Ishan Porel back, we have more options. Manoj Tiwary’s experience always helps young players and we hope this team can win big this season,” Lal said.
Brief Scores: Bengal : 138 and 202 all out in 69.3 overs (Manoj Tiwary 65, Arnab Nandi 51; Krishan Alang 6/53, Siddharth Kaul 2/37) won by 48 runs against Punjab : 151 and 141 all out in 47.3 overs (Ramandeep singh 65 no, Anmol Malhotra 17, Mandeep Singh 17; Shahbaz Ahamad 4/44, Akash Deep 2/17, A Nandi 1/22, Ramesh Prasad 1/46).
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