It’s a once-in-a-lifetime performance: Shahbaz Nadeem on his record-breaking spell
Shahbaz Nadeem has been the linchpin behind Jharkhand's rise. (Getty Images)

Approximately seven days before his team Jharkhand’s Vijay Hazare Trophy opener against Rajasthan, Shahbaz Nadeem was one of the six bowlers to fly to the UAE by the BCCI to help Indian batsmen prepare for the 2018 Asia Cup.

It wasn’t the first time he had bowled to these players in the nets. He has been doing it as part of India A for as long as one can remember. Across the last three seasons, Nadeem has picked up over 50 wickets in a Ranji Trophy season, led India A to wins in New Zealand and England, and been the linchpin of Jharkhand’s rise in the Indian domestic circuit. But surprisingly enough, his state team and India A is as far as he has reached. An India call has always eluded him despite doing everything a player has to in order to knock on the selectors’ door.

On Thursday, Nadeem took another huge leap towards realising his dream of playing for India. He registered the best figures by a bowler in a List-A game by taking 8/10 against Rajasthan and skittling them 73. He broke a 21-year-long record that was held by Mumbai’s Rahul Sanghvi and joined a list where names like Chaminda Vaas and Michael Holding are now behind him.

Nadeem struck in the 10th over, when Rajasthan were 32 without loss. He cleaned up Amit Gautam for his first wicket and took another seven – including a hat-trick – with Rajasthan scoring just 41 more. The 29-year-old couldn’t have hoped for a better start.

“Performance like these occur once in a lifetime. Never thought I would be able to do something like this in the first game itself,” Nadeem tells CricketCountry. “I just entered the match knowing that I have to bowl well. What such a performance does is that it gives you the confidence and go one step ahead, and for this to have come in the opening game of the tournament, I couldn’t have asked for more.

“We have won the Vijay Hazare Trophy earlier. The aim is to at least make it to the final. Over the last three reasons, Jharkhand have made it to the semi-finals so it’s evident that the players are performing and the team is improving. This year, we have worked a lot on our fitness and that will definitely reflect on our performances.”

Nadeem reveals that he was not aware of any kind of record, nor the hat-trick because it was spread across two overs. He removed Mahipal Lomror and Robin Bist off the last two deliveries of his sixth over and Tejinder Singh off the first ball of his seventh. “I had no idea. Honestly, I didn’t even realise that I had taken a hat-trick since it happened across different overs,” he says. “In fact, I just read it a while back somewhere. I’m not usually active on social media so such things get time to reach me.”

As Jharkhand romped to a comfortable seven-wicket win, there were noises questioning the quality of the surface that was used. CricketCounty has learned that Rajasthan were left shocked by they encountered at the TI Murugappa Ground in Chennai, where many deliveries stayed low and left one player from the team terming the track as “pathetic”.

Nadeem, however, believes otherwise.

“I don’t think there were any demons on the pitch or anything like that. From no point was the pitch bad or not suitable for playing,” Nadeem says. “I think more than anything, Rajasthan were shocked at their collapse because we also batted on the same surface. We did lose three wickets but also chased down the target in 14 overs. So yeah, it could be that they their batting left them surprised.”

Nadeem felt he would be lying if he said the thought of picking up the remaining two wickets did not cross his mind. He picked up his eighth wicket in the eighth over and was closing in on a landmark no bowler has achieved: 10 wickets in a List-A Game. But it was Nadeem’s own piece of advice that took it away from him as fellow left-arm spinner Anukul Roy picked up the final two wickets of Rahul Chahar and Aniket Choudhary.

“At first, when I took the eighth wickets, the thought did cross my mind,” Nadeem says. “But it wasn’t as if the other bowlers were asked not to pick up wickets because I was closing in on 10. I told Anukul to keep bowling. If I get the remaining two well and good, else I was content achieving what I did. It doesn’t matter if I didn’t get 10, because I think eight isn’t that bad either.

“As a matter of fact, I advised Anukul to bowl quicker through the air since the ball was turning. The tail was batting so tackling spin was always going to be an issue for them. The over I told him was the over when he got Chahar out.”

It is natural for Nadeem to be using all his experience to get the best out of his young teammates. Afterall, Nadeem may be skinny, and just five feet four inches tall but possesses all the credentials needed to be called a domestic heavyweight. He started his cricket in the year 2000, and within three years, found himself playing in the Vijay Hazare Trophy. Even after 15 years of playing competitive cricket, Nadeem is just 29 and has 375 wickets in 99 First-Class games.

“When I started playing, I was 15,” he says. “I was playing Under-15 and Ranji Trophy for my state. I think it’s because I started playing early that I gradually progressed and picked up experience along the way. I still believe my best years are ahead of me, and that includes playing for India.”

Nadeem’s insatiable hunger has pushed him to add variety in his bowling. Over the years, his go-to deliveries have the arm-ball and the doosra, but the left-armer has recently added a couple new tricks in his repertoire. “I’ve started working on the carrom ball too which I bowl occasionally. In T20s, I even tried bowling chinaman. In the last IPL, I dismissed Chris Gayle with it. I tried both these deliveries today and got wickets,” he says.

The reasons behind those variations however, as Nadeem points out, do not particularly boil down to playing for India. That is something he has come to terms with. There was a time when Nadeem would get frustrated not to find his name feature in the Indian squad, despite having the performances to back him. But not anymore. Instead, he decided to channel those disappointments into better and impactful performances. In the last one year, Nadeem has turned in impressive showings, especially for India A, picking up 4/39 against New Zealand A in a thumping innings win, followed by 4/33 in a List A game against the same side.

In July earlier this year, Nadeem recorded figures of 3/42 and 3/46 against West Indies A and England Lions in England and maintained his form in the Duleep Trophy game for India Red, where he replaced R Ashwin and picked up 5/53 in a drawn match. If you look beyond Axar Patel, there aren’t many options for India to go to in the slow left-arm orthodox. Their search should be over if and when Nadeem receives the green light from MSK Prasad and Co.

“I used to think like that earlier but now I am all the more determined to play for India,” Nadeem says. “The dream of representing India is what I had from day one and that has not changed. The reason I am able to put in such performances because it’s that drive of playing at the top level that gets me going. I know I have to do whatever it takes to make that happen. Luck plays a big role too and I’m just waiting for mine to shine.”