Mohammad Shahzad: T10 is a suitable format for the Olympics

The 10-over format where "batsmen keep swinging their bat all the time" is good for enjoyment and can be taken to the Olympics, feels the flamboyant opener.

Mohammad Shahzad is playing in his second season of Abu Dhabi T10 League.   -  AP Photo

The T10 league would be a competition tailor-made for a batsman who likes to attack the bowling from the outset. Deccan Gladiators opener Mohammad Shahzad hasn’t dazzled as much as he would like, with just one half-century in seven matches, but that one half-century – a 21-ball 57 against Qalandars - has been a validation of his entertainment value as he employed some trademark hits and ended up as the Player of the Match. As it is, he has hit eight sixes and 10 fours and is the second-highest run-getter for his team so far, behind Shane Watson, and has an average strike-rate of 203.77.

Shahzad feels right at home playing a format like this. It is his second season in the T10 League, after having played for the Rajput team last season. Quick decision-making is crucial here, he has observed.

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“Last year, the first match had gone well for me but the rest of the tournament wasn’t so good. The T10 format is a very fast format, and one has to take decisions quickly. It’s not so much a test of skill as much as it is a mind game – who can take decisions quickly? Regarding my batting – there are 60 balls, so in the first three overs, with the fielders inside the circle we try to score 30 to 40 runs. Towards that end, I look to target two-three balls every over,” he told Sportstar, commenting on his game-plan ahead of every innings.

At least for the Gladiators, there aren’t elaborate plans for the batting and bowling units for each game. Instead, there is an attempt to gauge the strengths and weaknesses of each opposition player, revealed Shahzad.

“We don’t plan for the team. We plan for each player. We find out the strengths and weaknesses of each player. As a bowling unit, we plan like that. Us batsmen, we plan in a similar way against the opposition bowlers,” he said.

T10 cricket in Olympics

Shahzad has played 118 T20s in his decade-long career and he finds T10 does away with even the smallest need for vigilance T20 may have for a batsman. “The difference is that in the 20-over format, there’s a six-over PowerPlay, so in the first five or six overs you have to play safely. In this format, you have no restriction. There is no respect for the bowler, either. Batsmen just keep swinging the bat. This is a very different format. I would say this is good for enjoyment and if this is taken to the Olympics, that would be great,” he said.

Shahzad has also been learning a lot by sharing the dressing room with some of the best players in the world. Commenting on his team members and support staff, he said, “Last year, [Brendon] McCullum was the captain. He is also a very big player. Herschelle Gibbs was our coach. This year, I have a new team and a new coach. Mushtaq Ahmed, our head coach, is a very positive person. Nothing need be said about Shane Watson – as good a player he is, he is an equally good person. All of our players are very good. The team’s morale is very good.”

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He added: “If we talk about Shane Watson, he takes a bit of time to play his strokes. He is a strong hitter, too, but he takes a bit of time to play. What we learn from Mushtaq Ahmed was that regardless of whether we are going through a purple patch or poor form, he supports us a lot. Such people are important in a team.”

Shahzad is not the only player from Afghanistan known to dazzle in the shorter formats. Rashid Khan, now the national team captain, is an Indian Premier League star and Mohammad Nabi has excelled, too. It’s been a phenomenal rise for cricketers from the war-torn country in the last 10 years – the team rose up the ladder of associate cricket in little time to now have played two World Cups and receive Test status.

So, what did Shahzad, who played an essential role in the team’s rise in this period, put the success down to?

“We got our ODI status in 2010. Now, it’s 2019. In this period, for us to rise the way we did, there was only one [mantra] to it: we play for our country and all of our 15 players are one. It is one team. We take happiness in each others’ success. So, the secret to our success is this – that we support each other. If Rashid [Khan] plays well in the IPL, then all of us sit together and cheer for him, in Kabul. He plays in India, in Hyderabad. Nabi plays, Mujeeb [Ur Rahman] plays. We pray for him from our homes – that Rashid bowls his four overs well, Nabi bowls well. Wherever they play – in the Big Bash League or in county cricket, we feel happy for them. The secret of our success is that we support each other and we’re one team. We have just one goal: how we can win matches for our team. This is the biggest [feature] of our journey,” Shahzad stated simply.

Rashid's captaincy

Afghanistan is now captained by the 21-year-old Rashid, and Shahzad believes he will learn a lot as he grows into the role.

“Rashid Khan is a big player, a very good captain. But he will take a bit of time to settle into his captaincy. These are early days for him. Inshallah, as he finds more time, he will learn a lot from the matches. Even otherwise, he is learning from the matches he plays – IPL, county cricket, and from Australia. But captaincy is a different thing. He will have to play matches – he captains in domestic cricket, and senior players support him. Hopefully, he becomes successful like Asghar [Afghan], Nawroz [Mangal]or [Mohammad]Nabi had been,” Shahzad said.

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Despite his big-hitting abilities, an IPL contract hasn’t quite materialised for Shahzad. Would he be hoping to land a deal in the auction in December?

“I try to play good cricket wherever I play. That is my endeavour. The rest is in their hands, it’s part of life. I can’t say anything on that. If a team takes me, it will be a reason for happiness, because the world’s best players come to play [there]. If I play [in the IPL], I will be happy,” Shahzad signed off.

(The writer is in Abu Dhabi on an invitation from Abu Dhabi T10 League)

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