Shahzad happy to be back in Scotland
Jake Perry caught up with Mohammad Shahzad ahead of the two ODIs between Afghanistan and Scotland at the Grange, starting on Monday.
The first day of July may have been marked by a little weak Edinburgh sunshine but Mohammad Shahzad is not complaining about the distinct nip in the Scottish summer air. Having left behind Indian temperatures pushing fifty degrees the cooler air is very welcome as he and Afghanistan prepare for their One Day International double header with Scotland, and Shahzad is in relaxed mood at the team hotel as he mulls over the prospects for the days ahead. The change in temperature may have provided an initial shock to the system but 2016, and playing in and against Scotland, already holds many happy memories for the charismatic wicketkeeper/batsman.
“I am very happy to be in Scotland again,” said Shahzad. “It is a very good country, they have good quality cricketers, good weather for me and I love to play cricket here.
“I scored a few runs against Scotland last year in the WT20 Qualifier, also in India, so it is a team I love to play against too!” he added with a smile.
His fondness is well justified. Shahzad has been something of a thorn in Scottish flesh over the past few seasons, with T20I scores of 55 and 46 in 2013 and 75 at the WT20 Qualifier last year to go with an unbeaten century in the Intercontinental Cup in 2010. At the ICC World T20 earlier this year Shahzad’s 61 again proved to be the difference as Afghanistan became the only Associate nation to advance into the Super 10s.
For now, though, he is looking to the days ahead.
“Last week we were practising here so we are used to the colder weather again. We have just come from India where it was very hot, forty seven, forty eight degrees – that is too hot! In Kabul it can be like Scotland, cold weather. The boys are happier here!”
Practice over the past week has focused on adapting to the difference in playing conditions, too.
“Scottish wickets are not like sub-continental pitches. There balls are turning, spinning, keeping low. Here it is very different and so last week we were practising hard to adjust to your wickets and conditions. In India there are good batting conditions, here there are seaming conditions.
“Whatever happens though, we will enjoy ourselves. We always try to play good and positive cricket and we will again next week.”
Shahzad comes to Scotland in prolific form. He enjoyed an outstanding start to the year, racking up his highest ODI score of 131* in the 3-2 series win over Zimbabwe together with that rarest of beasts, a T20I century, against the same opposition. A further century, in the four day IC match against Namibia, came from his most recent outing in national colours.
He is keen to highlight the strength in depth of Afghanistan’s squad, however.
“We have ten or eleven match-winners in our squad with five or six all-rounders in our playing eleven,” he said. “Shenwari, Ahmadi, Nabi, me, Gulbadin Naib and so on, we have a lot of all-rounders in our team. It gives a lot of options to our side.”
Warm, welcoming, and with that mischievous air that often comes across on the cricket field bubbling just beneath the surface, Shahzad’s philosophy towards playing the game is simple and refreshingly uncomplicated.
“I just enjoy myself,” he said. “If you go into the ground with stress you cannot play cricket well. So I just go and try to play good and aggressive cricket, not only for the fans but to give a tough time to the opposition.”
In the WT20 his belligerent hitting and passionate commitment in the field was a key component in Afghanistan’s success. After giving South Africa a scare the Afghans recovered from a demoralising defeat-from-the-jaws-of-victory loss to England to claim a famous win over West Indies in their final pool match, becoming the only team to defeat the eventual champions in the process.
“We have many good memories of the tournament. After all, we beat the world champions! West Indies are a very good T20 side. Whereas other teams have maybe four or five match-winning players in their team, West Indies have fifteen match-winning players in their squad. Beating them was very good for us.
“For me, I have good memories of playing South Africa (where he scored a spectacular 44 off 19 balls in what was one of the innings of the tournament). They have a very good fast bowling attack but I smashed them!”
But what of that defeat to England? What does he feel Afghanistan need to do to enable them to compete more consistently against Full Member opposition? In the world of Associate cricket Shahzad’s thoughts are all too familiar.
“We need more matches against the Full Members, India, South Africa, Pakistan, Australia and so on. We have to have matches against the big teams and the big players to develop. The more we play against AB de Villiers, Chris Gayle, the more we learn and the better we get.
“We played fourteen games against Zimbabwe, a big team, a Full Member. Beating them built our confidence so when we played against them again in the World Cup we knew we could beat them.
“Our morale was high. It still is.”
And it is that sense of positivity and optimism for the future which comes across most strongly as we talk. Immediate focus may be on limited overs cricket and the Associate competitions but long term sights are set on the highest prize of all.
“The whole team’s goal is to play Test cricket. Inshallah we will, we have two games coming up against PNG and Holland and if we beat them we have a chance to go to Test level. It’s not just me, not just the team, the entire country is waiting for the moment Afghanistan can play Test cricket.
“Everybody at home is excited and praying for us and we will try hard to achieve it.”
And judging by the remarkable advances the team has made in recent years, who could bet against it?
Both matches will start at 10:45 with entry being £10 for Adults and £5 concessions/OAPs and students (with a valid matriculation card), under 16s free.
Preston Mommsen, Kyle Coetzer, Alasdair Evans, Brad Wheal, Calum MacLeod, Con de Lange, Craig Wallace, Mark Watt, Matthew Cross, Michael Leask, Richie Berrington, Safyaan Sharif, Ruaidhri Smith.
Mohammad Shahzad, Noor Ali Zadran, Javed Ahmadi, Asghar Stanikzai, Rahmat Shah, Mohammad Nabi, Samiullah Shinwari, Najibullah Zadran, Rashid Khan, Mirwais Ashraf, Gulbadin Naib, Dawlat Zadran, Hamid Hassan, Shapoor Zadran, Amir Hamza Hotak, YaminAhmadzai.