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If a slot in the XI isn’t empty, then you just wait for your chance – Shahbaz Nadeem

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The ball is dangled up, above the batsman’s eyeline. He leaves his crease, almost involuntarily, to try and reach it. He ends up getting nowhere near it.

The ball does two devious things. It drifts in first, and that causes the batsman to open up, again almost involuntarily. Then it spins far more than the batsman expects, and he’s left groping for it as it rips past his outside edge.

T Bavuma st Saha b Nadeem 32.

It’s a classic left-arm spinner’s dismissal, and it’s quite a way to get your first wicket in Test cricket. For Shahbaz Nadeem, it also happened to be his 425th in first-class cricket.

Nadeem has been playing first-class cricket since December 2004. Every other member of this India XI made their first-class debut after him. It’s quite a story: he began playing for Jharkhand at 15, and was nearly twice as old when he made his Test debut.

He has learned plenty in the intervening years. He began as a purveyor of flat and quickish left-arm spin, and gradually evolved into the kind of bowler he’s now become.

“When I began, I was really young, and our team was mostly built around fast bowling,” he said at the end of the third day’s play. “We didn’t really have spinners. Basically, we would mostly play on green wickets, and when I used to bowl fast on green wickets the ball used to skid onto the bat quickly.

“So I realised that if I have to play on green wickets, I’ll have to start flighting the ball, and I’ll have to change my bowling so that I can get whatever little purchase I can off the pitch, which I won’t get with a flatter trajectory. The changes began there, after 2-3 years, and I began learning flight variations in order to get wickets even on those pitches. You can say that it helped me to not get helpful wickets at that early stage.”

It was an interesting exercise to watch Nadeem bowl in tandem with Ravindra Jadeja, who is among the quickest spinners in world cricket.

It isn’t that Jadeja doesn’t vary his pace or trajectory. There was an over, for instance, where he bowled two flighted deliveries wide of off stump that Temba Bavuma drove towards the two fielders in the covers. Jadeja followed this with a quicker, flatter one on a similar length that gave Bavuma no time to get forward to. It ripped off the pitch with extra bounce and beat the outside edge by a big margin.

Nadeem’s variations are a little subtler, and there is a bit of Rangana Herath about him, in the sense that he looks to create different angles by varying his release points and wrist positions, while still trying to get most of his deliveries to end up within the line of the stumps.

That wicket-to-wicket line kept the right-hand batsmen on a tight leash: in the first innings, they faced 42 balls from him but only managed two scoring shots. Before he was stumped off that hypnotically flighted ball, Bavuma had faced seven balls from Nadem and scored no runs.

There is obvious quality in Nadeem’s bowling, but he’s still only fourth-choice among India’s Test spinners, behind Jadeja, R Ashwin and Kuldeep Yadav, whose troublesome shoulder paved the way for his inclusion here in Ranchi. Nadeem is realistic about where he stands, but he knows he’ll be in and around the squad if he maintains his levels of performance.

“This was the motivation, the chance I got here,” Nadeem said. “The motivation came from knowing that I might get a chance if something happened to someone. Whichever spinners we have, they’re all doing well. As a cricketer, you have to realise that the slot you’re fighting for, it has to be empty in the first place. If it isn’t empty, you just wait for your chance.”

The wait has lasted many years, some of which have brought bucketloads of first-class wickets. There were 51 Ranji Trophy wickets in the 2015-16 season, and 56 the season after that. To many watching from outside, it can seem like a difficult wait, but first-class cricketers enjoy first-class cricket for its own sake too. Even when he’s away playing for, say, India A, Nadeem says Jharkhand, his first-class team, always remains on his mind.

“We enjoy [playing first-class cricket] a lot,” Nadeem said. “Playing for Jharkhand is a motivation too, because whoever my team-mates are at Jharkhand, I’ve known them for a long time, some of them for close to 15 years. I’ve played with some of them since childhood, at junior level, so it’s always fun when I play for Jharkhand, and it’s a different sort of feeling.

“Wherever I might be playing, if there’s a Jharkhand match, my heart says I need to go play that match too, because apart from the match, there’s friendships and laughter as well.”

If he keeps bowling the way he did on Monday, Nadeem might have to make room in his life for an entirely new set of friendships.



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Ishant Sharma reveals secret to his red-hot form

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A renewed approach to life has helped Ishant Sharma grow as a bowler, he said after taking a five-wicket haul in India’s first day-night Test. It was his first five-for in India since his first home match in 2007 against Pakistan.

Ishant has more or less become a permanent member of this Indian team over the last two years, and is central to the pace attack that has progressively improved as India firmly established themselves in the No. 1 spot in Tests. This permanence and the recent bursts of improvement have not been enough to make Ishant consistently challenge for a limited-overs spot. But 12 years and 96 Tests later, he is not wasting time feeling sorry for himself.

“In some sense [it hurts], yes. But I’m at a stage of my life where I’ve stopped worrying about these kind of things. I’m 31 now, I can’t keep worrying now about which format my name has been picked for.” Ishant said at the press conference in Kolkata. “Whether I play for India, whether I play Ranji Trophy – I just want to be playing at this point. It’s a simple thing. If you desire to keep playing, you’ll do well. Cricket’s given us everything. If we keep cribbing about small things like these, we will never improve.”

Just before Sri Lanka’s tour of India almost exactly two years ago, Ishant had taken 212 wickets at 36.93 in 77 Tests. Since the start of that series, he has taken 76 wickets in 19 games. His career average has gone up by a dramatic four runs per wicket and is presently at 32.94. That is precisely the average at which Zaheer Khan finished his career. If he plays in four more Tests, Ishant will be first frontline fast bowler since Kapil Dev to go past 100 Tests for India. These are all feats that were improbable some five years ago. What changed?

“I think I’m enjoying my cricket now,” Ishant said. “Earlier I used to put pressure on myself about performing – that I need to take wickets, that I’m only beating the batsman…a lot of things used to run on my mind. Now I don’t think too much about those things, just how to take wickets. Obviously I’m experienced so I can assess conditions and adjust my lengths quickly, that makes it easy.”

Ishant Sharma interview on The Cricket Monthly: ‘If I don’t take wickets even in one innings, I think my career for India is over’

Another feat Ishant achieved on Friday was that he bowled India’s first delivery in a day-night Test. Bowling with the pink ball, he said, was not the same.

“It was very different. In the start you must have seen that when we bowled a normal length, it wasn’t swinging that much. After that we realised what lengths we need to be hitting in order to get some more help. So the three of us [fast bowlers] communicated about hitting the right length,” Ishant said.

Regardless of that rustiness, India managed to be consistent enough to have Bangladesh six down by lunch. The fall of those wickets began with Ishant trapping Imrul Kayes lbw. And it came with a ball he only started developing during the second day in the previous Test.

“You must have seen that normally I used to swing it away from the left-hander,” Ishant said, talking of his new incoming delivery. “So I needed to add a variation. Your game only improves when you bring variety to it, and build confidence to bowl those in the match. So I was trying to bowl more of that in practice. In this match, the first wicket that I got – Imrul Kayes lbw – I got him with that ball. The two bowled wickets I got were also that ball. The ball lands and stays straight, it doesn’t go away from the batsman.”

On the flip side of this contest, Bangladesh have struggled to show any resistance, in any innings, against this Indian attack. While neither of the pitches have particularly difficult to bat on, Bangladesh’s top-order has crumbled in the face of relentless pressure. At the same time, their bowlers haven’t come as close to troubling India. But even as they face a grueling period, head coach Russell Domingo was optimistic, citing Ishant’s steep rise as a potential inspiration for his own bowlers.

“I don’t want to keep comparing the two sides but if you think of the number of Tests their pacers have played, and compare that with Ebadat’s fourth Test match, we have a very inexperienced bowling line-up.,” he said.

“Look at the way Ishant started, and the way his career is now. It takes a bit of time for these young fast bowlers to find the length and the discipline it takes to bowl to guys like Rohit, Virat or Pujara. It is a steep learning curve at the moment.”



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Baroda hold off Delhi by one run, while TN beat Mumbai

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Baroda and Karnataka surged to the top of the Super League groups A and B, winning their Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy matches on Friday. While Baroda held off Delhi by a solitary run, Karnataka beat Jharkhand by 13 runs in a game they looked like they would win at a canter at one stage. The victories gave them both eight points each from two matches.

Rajasthan and Jharkhand, who have both had a close defeat each in high-scoring games, now find themselves with two defeats in as many Super League games, making a spot in the semi-finals difficult.

Like on Thursday, there were IPL scouts from at least four franchises in attendance for the matches, making performances in the Super League particularly crucial given the IPL auction that is scheduled for December 19.

Baroda v Delhi

A combined effort by the Delhi bowlers kept Baroda to 151 for 6. However, Delhi’s chase stuttered and finished on 150 for 9. Babashafi Pathan, the right-arm medium-pacer, took 3 for 24 for Baroda, while Kunwar Bidhuri fought a lone battle for Delhi.

Bhiduri, handed a game due to Shikhar Dhawan’s injury, had a sparkling T20 debut, hitting 68 off 51 balls at the top of the order. However, he lacked support from the rest of the Delhi batsmen. He was ninth out at the start of the 20th over. Delhi needed 19 to win from the remaining five balls and though Suboth Bhati swung his bat during an unbeaten 20 off 8 balls, Delhi could make only 17 runs.

Baroda didn’t have any batsman making a standout innings, though Aditya Waghmode continued his good form, top-scoring with 36 off 31 while opening. Only Deepak Hooda (26 off 19) among the other batsmen crossed 20, though useful contributions right through meant Baroda got to a competitive – and eventually winning – total.

Tamil Nadu v Mumbai

Tamil Nadu put behind a comprehensive defeat to Karnataka to hand the other tournament favourites – Mumbai – a resounding loss, by seven wickets with 6.1 overs to spare. Left-arm spinner Shams Mulani had a remarkable day, but the rest of the Mumbai team crumbled.

Tamil Nadu’s bowlers ensured Mumbai could get only 121 for 9, despite Mulani hitting 73 off 52 after being promoted to No. 4. R Sai Kishore continued his good run with figures of 3 for 18 in four overs, while M Siddharth took 4 for 16. Prithvi Shaw made 30 off 19 at the top of the order, but no other Mumbai player got into double-figures.

Tamil Nadu sent in Shahrukh Khan to partner Hari Nishanth at the top of the order, and the duo gave the team a rapid start. Shahrukh fell in the fourth over, bowled by Mulani, with B Aparajith following him back two balls later. However, Nishanth, who didn’t have a good outing against Karnataka, came to the fore in style, smashing 73* off 44 balls.

Mulani took all three wickets to fall – Dinesh Karthik being the third – to complete a fabulous all-round day with figures of 3 for 26 in four overs, but Vijay Shankar ensured he stayed alongside Nishanth as victory was raised in just 13.5 overs.

Karnataka v Jharkhand

Put in to bat, Karnataka rocketed off the blocks, before losing their way in the second half of their innings. Their fantastic start nonetheless ensured a sizeable 189 for 6 on the board, and though Jharkhand fought gamely, the required rate was always a touch above what they looked like achieving, eventually finishing on 176 for 5.

Karnataka’s start was driven by Devdutt Padikkal – in many ways the batsman of the tournament so far – who raced to 63 off 30 balls in an opening stand that brought 114 in 9.3 overs. His opening partner KL Rahul was more sedate in comparison, while Manish Pandey came in and picked up where Padikkal had left off. However, both men fell shortly thereafter, though at 130 for 3 in 11 overs, Karnataka were still looking at a total well in excess of 200. However, with their three main batsmen gone, the rest of the line-up struggled and could only score at around a run a ball thereon. Left-arm spinner Sonu Singh did most of the damage, with 3 for 28 in four overs. He took out both Rahul and Pandey, and added the wicket of Karun Nair too.

Jharkhand’s reply was driven by Virat Singh‘s 76* off 44 from No.3, but the batsmen around him couldn’t keep up with the required rate. They needed 87 runs in the last six overs, which is when Virat and Sumit Kumar (23 off 16) cut loose, but though they scored at more than two runs per ball, the eventual target proved too steep.

Haryana v Rajasthan

Tight bowling by Haryana gave them a four-wicket victory over Rajasthan with 4.4 overs remaining, with Harshal Patel putting in an all-round show once again.

Harshal, who has been opening the batting in this tournament, first took 1 for 19 in his four overs as Rajasthan were restricted to 123 for 8. Ankit Lamba top-scored with 38, but took 41 balls, and only Chandrapal Singh (25* off 14) crossed 20 among other batsmen. Rahul Tewatia, recently traded from Delhi Capitals to Rajasthan Royals, was the most successful bowler, with 3 for 18 in four overs.

Interestingly, Haryana opened with two leggies in Yuzvendra Chahal and Amit Mishra, while Tewatia – another leggie – was the first change bowler.

Harshal led Haryana’s reply, smacking 41 off 25 at the top of the order to be the highest score of the match. Haryana didn’t have too many others contributing, but given the small target, they didn’t need to.



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Recent Match Report – Paarl Rocks vs Jozi Stars, Mzansi Super League, 13th Match

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Jozi Stars’ title defence hopes are hanging by a thread after losing a fifth successive match in the Mzansi Super League (MSL). Although mathematically it is still possible for them to make the playoffs, they will need more than just their own results to go their way. Despite shuffling their batting line-up, the Stars did not manage to score enough runs and their 129 for 3 was never going to be enough against a strong Paarl Rocks side. James Vince picked up from his undefeated 86 against the Spartans last Sunday, scoring 43 to ensure the Rocks successfully chased down their target inside 17 overs. They move to third on the table, four points behind leaders, the Nelson Mandela Bay Giants.

Will Chris Gayle play his 400th T20 in South Africa?

In his 399th T20 game, Chris Gayle was dropped down the order to No.3 after a poor start, with 46 runs in five innings so far. At first, the move seemed successful. Ryan Rickelton and Reeza Hendricks opened the Stars’ innings with a strong stand of 64 in 9.4 overs before Rickelton was dismissed for 40. That brought Gayle to the crease with enough of a foundation to get going immediately. But Gayle only managed a single before he was struck on the pad by Hardus Viljoen and given out. Replays showed the ball had pitched outside leg but with no DRS, Gayle would not have even been able to review. He is now in danger of leaving the tournament without making much of an impression or completing a personal milestone. Gayle is available for one more match in this tournament when the Stars play the Tshwane Spartans on Sunday. If he plays, it will be his 400th, but the Stars have already hinted they made need to make significant changes to their side.

Magic tricks

Tabraiz Shamsi has packed his phone away for this season and is now showing off his skills as a magician in the making. Shamsi keeps a handkerchief in his pocket which turns into a wand, and when he takes a wicket, he brings it out in celebration. The contraption made its first appearance in this edition of the MSL when he had Hendricks caught at long-off. None of Shamsi’s team-mates went too close to him when the catch was taken, perhaps knowing he needed some space, and allowed the Paarl crowd to see their very own Harry Potter at work.

KG on the comeback trail

Kagiso Rabada has not looked his usual sprightly self since the tour of India, until his first ball at Boland Park. It wasn’t the first ball of the innings, as it might ordinarily have been. Rabada was used as first-change after Gayle was given the new ball, and he quickly showed what he is capable of. He fired in a full delivery outside off, and Henry Davids, who was caught on the back foot trying to cut, inside-edged onto leg-stump, which went cartwheeling away. Rabada returned in the 15th over, with the cause all but lost and managed to have something of a last say when he caught Mangaliso Mosehle off his own bowling. A lengthy check for a no-ball showed that Rabada was just on the line and Mosehle had to go. Rabada could have had a third off the next ball but Gayle dropped an Isuru Udana skier at point.

Olivier’s over

The match was tensely poised with the Paarl Rocks on 64 for 4 halfway through their chase, still needing 66 runs off the final 10 overs when Duanne Olivier released the pressure with an over that cost 15. Vince was the beneficiary of Olivier’s misdirected line down leg and the vacant third man area, where he sent three, successive boundaries. The required run-rate dipped under six an over after that, and dipped to four when Simon Harmer’s second over cost 17. There was no stopping the Rocks from there.



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