Ajmal Shahzad hopes new beginning at Notts leads to county success and England recall
SAT in the Long Room in Trent Bridge's pavilion, his chair facing out onto the pitch, Ajmal Shahzad's eyes hardly strayed from looking out onto it. He hardly blinked, in fact.
It was understandable. Trent Bridge, even empty on a cold February day, is English cricket's Keira Knightley.
Having joined Nottinghamshire during the winter, signing a three-year deal with the club after nine years at Yorkshire, the 27-year-old all-rounder is looking forward to a new beginning, one he hopes will lead to the first first-class honours of his career and, ultimately, England.
He is set to make his County Championship debut for Notts against Middlesex at Trent Bridge in their opening Division One match, which begins on April 10. And in the final build-up to that, he will join his new team-mates on two overseas trips.
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They are in South Africa right now. Then they go to Barbados.
"It's a hard life, but someone's got to do it," he smiled, contemplating both of them.
It will be no holiday, however. Quite the opposite.
Having started pre-season all the way back on November 5 – a day Shahzad will remember – the Notts bowlers will train intensely at a specialist facility in Pretoria.
Then, the entire team will play three friendly matches during a tour of Barbados, culminating in one against Shahzad's old club Yorkshire.
Then comes the big one, Middlesex, the start of the new season and, with Shahzad joining the likes of Alex Hales, Michael Lumb, Chris Read, Samit Patel and James Taylor – and of course, when available, England regulars Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann – Notts will inevitably, and rightly, be looked upon as championship contenders.
"There is a buzz around the place and we're all feeling good about the season ahead," said Shahzad.
"It should go well for us. We've got a good, strong squad.
"I'm sure I will be a little bit nervous when I walk out here for the first time, but hopefully I will take a few wickets, get a few overs under my belt and get the crowd on my side and then I'll feel at home.
"I've played at Yorkshire for all of my career until now and I knew each end at Headingley, I knew where to bowl, how the ground would react and where to field.
"Hopefully the same thing will happen here and I will get to know exactly what the whole place is about in time.
"It's an inspiring place when it's empty so it's really going to spur me on when there are people in the stands."
Shahzad, who is currently renting a flat on the banks of the River Trent, looks set to lead the Notts bowling attack with New Zealander Andre Adams and bat at No.8.
"He's (coach Mick Newell) told me what he wants me to do and I back myself to do that," he added.
"I did it for Yorkshire for a very long time so I feel comfortable coming here.
"I'm not just expecting to play though.
"I know it's going to be a fight for places in the team because there are some class players in our squad.
"There are a lot of bowlers and a lot of all-rounders so we're all fighting for similar spots.
"Fingers crossed, I've put in enough work to get the nod when we play Middlesex.
"I'm doing the best I can to show what I'm about, but I have got to put that into practice in South Africa and then Barbados by putting in some good performances."
Notts have won the County Championship Division One title twice in recent years, in 2005 and 2010, dramatically so with a final-day draw at Lancashire, and they have also come close to one-day success in the t20.
"I want to help the team get into a position where we're fighting for trophies in all competitions," said Shahzad. "History says that this club is always up there.
"I guess, ideally, for us we want to win a few one-day competitions.
"The majority of the lads have played one-day cricket for England so hopefully we can nail a trophy in that format of the game.
"Myself, I'd like to do well in the Championship.
"I watched Notts when they won it a few years back, when they played Lancashire and they needed those three wickets in the last few overs.
"I want to get involved in games that matter like that because I have never won a trophy.
"Winning that first one is a big thing for me.
"The only ones I have got are from when I was younger and when I played for England and we beat Bangladesh and then from going to the Ashes.
"I've got bits of memorabilia, but it would be a nice feeling to put in the hard graft and make a big contribution to winning something and hopefully I can do that here."
If he is successful with Notts this summer and beyond, it will provide a sharp contrast to the last two seasons of his career.
He endured relegations into Division Two of the County Championship with Yorkshire in 2011 and then Lancashire last summer, having swapped the white rose for red on loan.
He also left Headingley under a cloud, being accused by their chairman Colin Graves of not being a team player, but rather selfish.
This is ironic because he insists teamwork will be the key to Notts enjoying success.
"There are some great players here, some big players, like Hales, Lumb, Taylor, Adams, who has done it year in year out, Read, who is one of the best keepers in the country, and Samit," he said.
"There are some serious names on paper, but it's all about how we do as a unit. Everybody has got their own individual goals.
"I want to do well because then that propels you to the next level.
"The likes of Hales and Lumb, they want to get their fifties and hundreds because it helps them get further honours – it's the same for me.
"I want to do well, I want to stand out, but most of all I want to help the team by taking wickets and scoring runs."
That next level is, of course, England, and Shahzad has not played for his country since the World Cup in March 2011 and has only ever played one Test, against Bangladesh in June 2010.
"I'm 27 now and probably peaking, so I'm not daunted by the challenge facing me here at Notts, I'm looking forward to it," he said.
"There is no point going through life without challenges in front of you.
"I feel like I've got a lot more to offer.
"I've not played that much for England, but my ambitions are to do well for Notts and get myself back in there.
"It's all well and good sitting here and saying I want to do this and that . . . it's about going out there and doing it though."
And, with that, he left. Determined.