Sat, 09 Dec 2023

New Delhi [India], August 16 (ANI): After a breakthrough year in domestic cricket and the Indian Premier League (IPL), the sight of the West Bengal all-rounder Shahbaz Ahmed, standing on the field, donning Team India's iconic blue colours with a bat or ball in his hand could turn into reality during its tour to Zimbabwe, which will kickstart from Thursday onwards.

Shahbaz comes as an injury replacement for Washington Sundar, who has been ruled out of the series due to a shoulder injury sustained during a county game for Lancashire in England. He comes to the team after delivering good performances for West Bengal in Ranji Trophy 2022 and for Royal Challengers Bangalore in the Indian Premier League (IPL).

This player, born in Mewat in Haryana made his List A debut for West Bengal in 2018-19 Vijay Hazare Trophy and has so far played 26 matches in the format and has scored 662 runs at an average of 47.28. Two centuries and half-centuries have come out of his bat with a best of 107. He has also taken 24 wickets in this format.

Then he made his first-class cricket debut in 2018 against Hyderabad in Ranji Trophy. So far, he has played 18 matches in the format, scoring 1041 runs at an average of 41.64. He has scored one century and seven centuries in the format. 57 wickets have been taken by him in first-class cricket.

Ever since his T20 debut in 2019 against Haryana, Shahbaz has also played 56 matches in this format and scored 512 runs at an average of 19.69. He has one fifty to his name. He has also taken 39 wickets in this format.

Shahbaz had his first prolific Ranji season in 2019-20. During this season, he scored 509 runs in 11 matches at an average of 36.35 with four half-centuries. He also took 35 wickets with best bowling figures of 7/57. He was among the top three batters for the state and their best bowler.

He was signed by Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) for their 2020 season and played only one match in which he could score only one run and took two wickets. His next season was also pretty unremarkable.

Over the next year or so, Team India persisted with all-rounders like Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Deepak Chahar, Washington Sundar and Axar Patel across all formats. With so much talent already in the set-up, Shahbaz found no takers in Team India.

But the year 2022 could very well be the game-changing year for him. He had his breakthrough season for highly-popular IPL franchise Royal Challengers Bangalore, which made it to the final four. The all-rounder stitched some important partnerships for his side, especially with the likes of Dinesh Karthik, a man knocking on the doors of selectors for a national side return himself.

Shahbaz finished the season with 219 runs in 11 innings for RCB at an average of 27.38. His best score was 45 during this season. With the ball, he also picked four wickets and had the best bowling figures of 2/26.

The all-rounder outdid himself in the Ranji Trophy 2021-22 season, in which his team made it to the semifinals, where they lost to Madhya Pradesh. He led the batting and bowling from the front for his side. In five games across ten innings, he scored 482 runs at an average of 60.25, with a century and three fifties under his belt. He was also the leading wicket-taker for his side with 20 wickets.

With his great performances, Shahbaz finally made inroads into the international cricket set-up of India. Though coming in as an injury replacement, his hard work and performances cannot be ignored. Indian Premier League has delivered yet another promising product to Indian cricket while Ranji also continues to stay highly relevant in the selection of the upcoming generation of the game.

He also adds to India's growing arsenal of spin-bowling all-rounders. Team India already has Washington Sundar, Deepak Hooda, Axar Patel and veteran Ravichandran Ashwin playing this role in some format or the other. At 27-year old, age is by his side and if he delivers well on his debut, he could very well be a great servant of Indian cricket.

India's tour of Zimbabwe will start on August 18 and go on till August 22. It will consist of three ODIs.

India squad for 3 ODIs: KL Rahul (captain) Shikhar Dhawan (vice-captain), Ruturaj Gaikwad, Shubman Gill, Deepak Hooda, Rahul Tripathi, Ishan Kishan (wicket-keeper), Sanju Samson (wicket-keeper), Shahbaz Ahmed, Shardul Thakur, Kuldeep Yadav, Axar Patel, Avesh Khan, Prasidh Krishna, Mohd Siraj and Deepak Chahar. (ANI)

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