Shahbaz Nadeem enjoys 'dream debut', credits domestic grind for success

Shahbaz Nadeem says his first-class experience of 15 years has prepped him for Test cricket, while playing his first Test in Ranchi makes it a "dream debut".

Shahbaz Nadeem took two for 40 in South Africa's first innings.   -  AP

Shahbaz Nadeem was offering Friday prayers at his Kolkata residence when around 2:30 in the afternoon, he received news of his maiden Test call-up. The left-arm spinner was added to India's squad on the eve of the third Test against South Africa in Ranchi, with Kuldeep Yadav having complained of shoulder pain.

"I had to work hard, but it has been a great journey. It's any cricketer's dream to represent their country at the highest level and I wanted everyone to see me perform on live television," Nadeem said at the end of third day's play at the JSCA Stadium on Monday.

Nadeem has been a consistent performer in domestic cricket for several years and has the distinction of claiming more than 50 wickets in consecutive Ranji Trophy seasons, in 2015-16 and 2016-17. He has snapped up 424 wickets in 110 first-class matches and did well against South Africa A at home last month, with eight wickets in two matches at 16.75.

An India cap though had proved elusive until now. So when his chance finally arrived, he justified his selection, finishing with figures of 16.2-4-40-2 to push South Africa on the brink of a 3-0 whitewash.

Read: Nadeem handed long-awaited debut after replacing Kuldeep

"It was a dream debut for me; playing my first Test in Ranchi. The crowd here respects me and cheers for me and that's a great feeling," Nadeem said.

"Waiting for my turn: that was the only motivation. Because our spinners are doing really well at the moment. That said, as a cricketer you also have to see if the spot you're eyeing is empty. If it's not, then you just wait for an opportunity like I did (laughs)," he added.

Nadeem has a point when he says breaking into this Indian Test side, with Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, isn't easy. The emergence of Kuldeep Yadav in 2017 has only made things more difficult for him. But the 30-year-old emphasised how the grind in domestic cricket and the IPL has helped him with the smooth transition into the Indian side.

"The experience of playing the IPL and a lot of India A matches comes in handy because you end up playing with or against a lot of these players even before you start playing for India.

"For instance, we played an A-series with South Africa ... and four-five of their players featured there. As far as IPL is concerned, when you play a pressure-format like that, it allows you to hold your nerve under trying situations, so when you finally start playing international cricket then you don't feel like you are doing anything new," Nadeem pointed out.

Nadeem was only 15 when he started playing Ranji Trophy cricket for Jharkhand. The next five years, he went through the motions before finally starting to understand how to bowl in days cricket. "My experience of playing first-class cricket for 15 years has helped me immensely," he said.

Nadeem got Temba Bavuma out stumped for his maiden Test wicket before trapping Anrich Nortje in front for his second wicket of the match. On the field, he chased the ball with childlike excitement and even accounted for George Linde in the second innings, with a direct hit at the bowler's end from the square leg; the sheer exhilaration of playing his first Test abundantly evident from his keenness on the field.

"When you play cricket for as long as I have, if someone calls you at 4 am and tells you that there's a match in two hours, you will still make it to the ground," Nadeem said in jest when asked how he reacted to the news of his call-up 24 hours before the start of the match.

On Monday, his long and arduous wait to play in Test whites came to a joyful end.

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