Shahbaz Ahmed grew up listening to his grandfather’s radio listening to the cricket commentary of Jasdev Singh and Sushil Doshi. The thought that one day the remark may be about his grandson baffles 73-year-old Mohammad Ishaq. When he plays for his country, “that’ll be my most happy day,” he declares.
That day might be coming soon. As a stand-in for Washington Sundar, who is out with an injury, Shahbaz, 27, is travelling with Team India for the ODI series in Zimbabwe. Shahbaz is a slow left-arm spinner who excels as a lower middle-order southpaw for Bengal and RCB. But he is from the Muslim-majority Nuh in Haryana’s Mewat, which Niti Aayog identified as India’s most underdeveloped area.
In a region where sporty models are uncommon, Shahbaz’s selection has caused widespread jubilation. “Mewat has no shortage of talent. They must be located and given a voice. Our two biggest problems are unemployment and illiteracy, according to Ramzan Chaudhary, a social activist and leader of the All India Mewati Samaj.
Washington Sundar has been replaced in Team India’s ODI team by Shahbaz, who has surprised everyone with his all-around abilities and demeanour since making his first-class debut in 2018.
In a heroic but unsuccessful attempt to win the match for his adopted state of Bengal against Madhya Pradesh in the Ranji Trophy semifinal this year, he hit 116 and took eight wickets.
“Every cricket player desires to wear the Indian national colours. The dream of being selected for the Indian squad has come true. I always gave it my all when I played for Bengal. My Bengals teammates had faith in me. If given the chance, I want to use my bowling and batting to help India win games. I’m hoping the group can count on me.