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An Interview with Shahbaz Ahmed

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Shahbaz_Ahmed_India_RCB_CricketAn accurate left-arm spin bowler, an able batsman and an excellent fielder, Bengal's Shahbaz Ahmed played a significant role in his team reaching the final of the Ranji Trophy 2019-20, where they eventually lost to Saurashtra. The last time Bengal won the Ranji Trophy, the 25-year-old all-rounder was not even born. With his contribution of 35 wickets and 509 runs in the season, Ahmed would have hoped to be a part of a historical win in the final.
Regrets aside, he lauded Bengal’s new captain-coach combination of Arun Lal and Abhimanyu Easwaran for their guidance.

“With Arun Lal as the coach for this season, our team remained very motivated. He brought a lot of positivity to the team. And Abhimanyu is also a very smart captain. He takes correct decisions at the correct time. He consults each one of us while making decisions. And Manoj (Tiwary) bhaiya also guided Abhimanyu really well and passed on his experience. All of this worked in our favour,” Ahmed told Holdingwilley in an exclusive chat.

In 2014 the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) announced their now-famous ‘Vision 2020’ program. The idea behind the program was to nurture athletes who could go on to represent India in international cricket. As a part of this project, CAB also arranged camps before the start of the domestic season, and it was one such camp which largely benefitted Ahmed and the team in the 2019-20 season.

The bowling all-rounder recalled that former India batsman VVS Laxman told him that he could be the Ravindra Jadeja of the Bengal team.

“Before the season started, we had a Vision 2020 camp which started in July. It was two and half months long. VVS Laxman sir and our bowling coaches helped us improve our technique and this helped us a lot. The first time I met VVS Laxman sir, I had many faults in my technique. He helped me rectify them. I was able to make a lot of changes to my batting. Laxman sir told me: what Ravindra Jadeja does for the Indian team, I can do for the Bengal team. He had given me a few targets before the season which I followed.”

Life hasn’t been very smooth for Ahmed, who had to move cities to find stability in his cricketing career. Having got little to no opportunities in his home state of Haryana, Ahmed travelled to Kolkata to try his luck in the Bengal team. He has been living away from home since.

“Nobody influenced me to play cricket. I liked playing it from my early years. My dad used to make me play when I was quite small and then I joined an academy in Gurgaon. I also played two seasons in Haryana but due to lack of opportunities came to Kolkata.

"It was in 2015 when I came to Kolkata and then I began to see my future in Bengal cricket. I got settled here and started playing for the Tapan Memorial Club. And I still play for the same club,” recalled Ahmed.

In October 2019, Ahmed was picked for the Deodhar Trophy and in December 2020, he was picked for the Indian Premier League by Royal Challengers Bangalore.

“I did well in the Vijay Hazare Trophy and then in the Deodhar Trophy for India A. So yes, I was expecting a chance in the IPL, but being picked by RCB was the icing on the cake. I can learn a lot from Virat Kohli. He’s the world no. 1 batsman. I can ask him about his process. Virat works very hard on his fitness and I am trying to do the same. Currently, due to COVID-19, all gyms and training centres are closed so I am doing the basic training at home, like stretching and other normal exercises. But whenever the IPL is played, I hope I can perform for RCB with the same confidence that I showed for Bengal this season.”

Before signing off, Ahmed shared what he is up to during quarantine. Like many of us, he spends his time on OTT platforms.

“It is difficult for a sportsperson to kill time at home because we are so used to being out of the home all the time. But I am trying to kill time by watching Netflix. I hope the Corona situation improves soon and normal life resumes.”



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