Tiger Nazim ready to thrill

Monday, September 3, 2007

We’ve all heard about the valiant mothers who dedicate their loving sons to the service of the nation during wartimes and become a legend in their own rights, a model of selfless sacrifice. You can draw a parallel to that with Nazimuddin’s mom whose one strict stance three years ago has probably meant a shy, comfort-loving lad from Chittagong becoming the talk of the Twenty20 Tournament here.

“I was in the Bangladesh Under 19 team’s pre-World Cup 2004 camp at the BKSP (Bangladesh Institute of Sports) and it was like staying in hell. There was so much physical hardship for six months and I was close to breaking point,” recalls Nazim who is one of the four players in the present national side from that class of 2004 under hard taskmasters Richard McInness the coach and fitness trainer Justin Cordy.

“One day we were taken for an ice-bath at 7 in the morning. It was winter and I had never experienced anything like standing inside a drum with ice up to the neck. I thought why don’t they kill me instead,” Nazim says with a characteristic smile.

“After the ice-bath there was another 40-minute ordeal at the swimming pool. When I got back to the dorm I called my mother on the phone and just asked her ‘You want to see your son alive or you want a cricket player?’ and she could hear me weeping. She paused for a few seconds and then said in a steely voice, ‘a son who is a cricket player’. I was so pissed that I did not call home for the next four weeks. Looking back I guess if she had played the typical mom and told me to come back home then I would never have gone on to play international cricket.”

That Under 19 stint under McInness also changed the cricket philosophy of Nazim who admits being a soft kind of a boy. “Everyday during the pre-World Cup camp I wanted to get out. I was not used to so much training. Infact I was one of those you call Cadburys or chocolate types who didn’t like physical hardship. But because of that camp I believe I am here today in the national team and there are six or seven others from that team who are also around or have been around for a while. Guys like Aftab (Ahmed), Riyad (Mahmudullah), Nadif (Chowdhury) are in this squad and Rajib (Shahadat Hossain), Enamul (Haque Jr.) Nazmul (Hossain) and Nafis (Iqbal) have all played for the Bangladesh team. Now I train on my own also and work hard because I realize that the competition for places has got stronger and you have to maintain a certain level to stay here,” says Nazim.

For Nazim breaking into the national team took a bit longer than his other mates but he came through the ranks in the proper way. “I had started playing cricket early when I was 10-11 years old. I was there at Tapan Da’s coaching camp in Chittagong where Nafis and Tamim (Iqbal) also went.”

He did well in an under 16 tournament and then made the Chittagong Under 19 side. Some good performances there brought Nazim to the eyes of the national selectors and he was called up for the 30-man provisional squad for the 2002 Under 19 World Cup but wasn’t selected for the final team. He was then given a scope in the BCB’s Development Squad that played in the Dhaka Premier Division League in 2003-04 and hit seven half centuries in 11 innings and then appeared in the 2004 Under 19 World Cup in Dhaka.

Nazim’s run scoring continued in the Dhaka Premier Division League, National Cricket League where he made his maiden first class double hundred last year and for the Academy and A sides and finally after a string of impressive scores for the A Team and his club Abahani which lifted the Premier Division title this season, Nazim finally got his must cherished call-up to the national team for the ICC World Twenty20 in South Africa. And then came an opportunity in the 20Twenty Tournament in Kenya which he grabbed with both hands. Shakib Al Hasan suffered a finger injury and had to be left out of the starting eleven for Bangladesh’s opening match against Kenya and Nazim was drafted in on the afternoon before the game.

On his international 20Twenty debut the 22-year-old top-scored with a 37-ball 43 in a man-of-the-match performance against Kenya. Next day he faced the world’s fastest bowler Shoaib Akhter. The first ball was a wide, the second was pulled in a flash and it disappeared to the square leg boundary quicker than it left Shoaib’s hand. What followed was an exhibition and the crowd that had warmed up to the Pakistanis was now deriving pleasure out this five feet four inch Bangladeshi dynamite. Anything slightly short and Nazim was in position already picking the spot to dispatch the ball. A short-arm pull almost crashed into the Hummer jeep placed beyond the widish midwicket boundary, a hook sailed over the green mound but the best one was the flick against Shoaib that would be a six at the largest cricket ground in the world.

Bangladesh were in the game and well on course to chasing down the target of 192 as long as Nazim was there but when we was out for 81 made in 50 balls the challenge subsided. However, in the eyes of the spectators Nazim was the real winner on the day and even Pakistan supporters came and embraced him, took autographs and photos and told him how he had made their shillings worth. And Nazim is feeling at home.

“Before coming into the national team I thought there would be constant pressure but it is not like that at all. The guys are so friendly and most are about my age and I have known some of them for years. The team atmosphere is excellent. Having Shaun (Williams) as coach also helped because he was my coach in the A Team and we know each other well and for me it has almost felt like playing for the A side. The on the field experience has been fantastic also. After taking on Shoaib and scoring against him comfortably I have more confidence because there is no one who would bowl quicker at me,” said Nazim.

His style is so typical of the way the boys from Chittagong bat but what’s their secret? “I don’t know,” Nazim shrugs. “It’s a natural thing maybe. We don’t do much running or fielding in Chittagong,” he says with a sheepish grin. “We go straight to the nets and bat, bat and bat. The fact that we are strong players of the pull and hook shots may come from practising those strokes on concrete pitches. I don’t know about Aftab or Tamim but I actually hit hundreds of pull shots when I train. I used to be more aggressive but now I can adjust. If the situation demands I know how to leave deliveries and stay at the wicket but 20Twenty is different.”

Nazim’s antics at the Bangladesh Army’s Commando School (SI & T), where the squad had a 7-day physical and mental conditioning camp as part of their preparation, are still a cause for much amusement among team mates. His mild proclamation in the most un-commando voice ‘Tiger Nazim ready to jump’ and then nervous movement back and forth on the plank before finally a plunge on to the lake water a mere ten feet below is in stark contrast to the bludgeoning marauder at the wicket. And he is winning admirers not only in the team but also among the lucky ones who have seen him in action. So who does he admire?

“Aftab. Not because we come from the same city and not just for his cricket but all round. He is my favourite player for his astonishing natural ability and he is an amazing person. I admire everything about him.”