Burly Afghanistan star Mohammad Shahzad proves match-fitness is paramount

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Afghanistan wicketkeeper batsman Mohammad Shahzad is overweight. There is no other way to say it. The 30-year-old has said in various interviews that he simply can’t give up food or sleep.

Fitness for Shahzad is a tricky topic. When the keeper, who weighs in at 90kg, was asked in May this year if he could go on a fitness diet and regime like India skipper Virat Kohli, the gloveman simply asked: “Why diet like Kohli when you can hit longer sixes than him?”

If sounds funny and is. But Shahzad backs up his statements with performances. Gym fitness and match fitness are two very different things and there can’t be a bigger example of it, sorry for the pun, than Shahzad.

Shahzad has been keeping wickets and opening the batting non-stop since August. His workload has intensified since the Asia Cup as he had to do it in the searing 40 plus degree heat in the UAE.

In the Asia Cup, he batted first in the afternoon in Abu Dhabi and Dubai in four out of the five matches. And he kept wickets for over 40 overs in all matches. His lowest score in the Asia Cup was 20 and he was at his best towards the end. He hit a fifty as Afghanistan lost their crucial Super Four match against Bangladesh by three runs and fell out of contention for a spot in the final.

In the last match of their campaign against India, Shahzad hit a breathtaking 124 from 116 balls that set the stage for a thrilling tie.

And just days after the end of their Asia Cup campaign, Shahzad was back on the field in the UAE. He is captain of the Paktia Panthers side competing in the inaugural Afghanistan Premier League T20 tournament in Sharjah.

Batting first on Friday, Shahzad hit 67 from 39 balls against  to help his team score 218-4.

Shahzad lives life to the fullest and plays cricket with total commitment. There is nothing half-hearted in anything Shahzad does and that makes up for the lack of fitness in the traditional sense.

India wicketkeeper MS Dhoni and Pakistan skipper and gloveman Sarfraz Ahmed are far superior athletes. They probably have better cricketing brains as well. Shahzad has back issues as doing hundreds of squats while keeping and opening the batting while carrying his weight is bound to put a strain on his body.

But he has natural talent and a decent work regime that allows him to score runs and take catches behind the stumps. What Dhoni and Sarfraz would give to be able to bat like Shahzad at this moment.

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Afghanistan's Mohammad Shahzad on song in APL T20 as he registers another fifty

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Afghanistan wicket-keeper batsman Mohammad Shahzad continued his fine form with the bat in the UAE as he kicked off proceedings in the inaugural Afghanistan Premier League with a fifty in Sharjah on Friday night.

Captaining the Paktia Panthers, opener Shahzad smashed 67 from just 39 balls against Kabul Zwanan in the tournament opener to help his team post a mammoth 218-4 in their 20 overs. Shahzad starred in a 101-run stand for the opening wicket with Ihsanullah inside 10 overs before he was bowled by Zahir Shehzad.

The burly cricketer also affected a stumping during Kabul’s chase to extend his excellent form.

Shahzad was one of the star performers for a highly impressive Afghanistan outfit during the recently concluded Asia Cup. He opened the batting and kept wicket, impressing throughout as his lowest score was 20.

Shahzad got better as the tournament wore on and saved his best for the final two matches. He hit a fine 53 in a must-win Super Four match against Bangladesh but still ended up on the losing side as the Afghans fell out of the race to the final.

Then in their final match of the tournament against India, he cracked a superlative 124 from 116 match in a low-scoring game that ended in a thrilling tie.

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Afghanistan the most consistent team at Asia Cup and a serious threat at 2019 World Cup

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Afghanistan were the most consistent side in the Asia Cup. And, arguably, they deserved to be the first team to qualify for the final. However, they were out of the race before their final Super Four clash – against India in Dubai on Tuesday.

Against an admittedly depleted Indian line-up missing five main players – six if you include Virat Kohli – the Afghans ensured they made the biggest statement of the tournament in the final over of their tournament.

India needed seven for victory with one wicket in hand and even after Ravindra Jadeja smashed a four off the second ball, Rashid Khan didn’t lose his composure. India needed one from two balls but smart field placing saw Jadeja lob the ball towards midwicket where Najibullah Zadran completed a brilliant running catch.

After the match, captain Asghar Afghan had quite a lot to say. “I was sure (we would) play the final. The conditions in Dubai favoured us,” Afghan said. “No one has played here as much as we have. However it was our hard luck that we had our matches in Abu Dhabi. If we had played in Dubai, I can guarantee we would have played the final.”

Even with the most gruelling schedule among all teams – they travelled from Dubai to Abu Dhabi and back to play matches on September 20, 21 and 23 – Afghanistan crushed Bangladesh by 136 runs, lost to Pakistan in the final over by three wickets and again lost to Bangladesh by three runs in the final over. Just a little bit of luck and it would have been Afghanistan in the final.

The common theme in every Afghanistan performance is the complete absence of fear, total commitment and a perpetual faith in winning a match from any position.

India were coasting at 110 for no loss and then later 204-4 chasing 253. Most teams would have lost hope at either juncture. But no Afghan bowler or fielder pressed the panic button. Shoulders did not drop and there was no angry shrug of the shoulders. Just a steely resolve to get one more wicket and get into India’s fragile middle order.

Such dedication for victory is rare to see on a cricket field. Even the best of teams give up the chase at one point and look to mitigate their losses, preserving their resources and energy. But not Afghanistan. Even in an inconsequential match.

Afghanistan captain Asghar said his team’s performance in the Asia Cup has sent out a warning to all teams at next year’s World Cup. They have spinners who can bowl on any surface and are waiting for main fast bowlers like Hamid Hassan and Shapoor Zadran to regain their fitness. If that happens, they will pose a serious threat in white ball cricket – anytime, anywhere and against anyone.

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