Nadeem builds his career on brother’s sacrifices

“Ja ji le apni zindagi (go live your life),” the dialogue from the iconic DDLJ, is etched in the memories of all film lovers. It’s not known if Javed Mahmood is a film buff but when he had to take a call on his son Shahbaz Nadeem’s career, he was spontaneous in using the famous dialogue. 

The journey of Nadeem, the left-arm spinner from Jharkhand, is nothing short of a Bollywood movie. It’s a story of courage and sacrifice, twists and triumph. A family of seven in Dhanbad dreamt, what appeared improbable then, of seeing one of the two younger boys wearing the India cap. Last month, when India took on South Africa in the third and final Test in Ranchi, the dream became a reality. 

Nadeem, one of the most consistent cricketers in the domestic circuit from the last five years, became India’s 296th player to play Test cricket when he made his international debut at his home ground. Highly regarded for his hard-working attitude, Nadeem kept knocking on the doors of the Indian team with many successful Ranji Trophy seasons. However, not many know that Nadeem’s passion was nearly nipped in the bud at a tender age of 12. 

It happened in the early 2000s, a time when parents saw education as the only way to success and alleviate their situation. Given this, Mahmood, employed in the State police department, was apprehensive with both his sons pursuing cricket, a game played by lakhs in India. The competition was always fierce and the list of also-rans had no limit. Only one of his sons would continue playing cricket, he convinced himself. 

“Shahbaz was good in studies. His mothers and elder sisters were of the opinion that he would lose his way by pursuing cricket. Because in the end, what matters is a settled life. In front of my eyes, many youngsters failed to make it big. Good education meant a good future. Or else, I thought, it would be a case of neither here nor there for Shahbaz. Varna dukan kholne ki naubat aa jaata tha usko (otherwise he would have had to start some petty business),” Mahmood recollects.  

So the big decision was taken and it was a no brainer at that time. Assad, Nadeem’s elder brother, was already leading the Bihar U-15 State team and the younger one had to crush his dreams.

“He cried uncontrollably for a week,” says Mahmood of Nadeem’s response when he was told to give up his favourite sport. “I wanted to be like Sachin. You snatched away my favourite thing in life,” an angry Nadeem had burst out at his father. 

Fate had shut the door on his ambitions, Nadeem thought. But inspiring stories always have a share of a good twist. Nadeem had caught the attention of top officials of Dhanbad Cricket Association and that helped him earn a name in the State probables. After reluctantly allowing Nadeem to attend the State selection trials, Mahmood was in a fix when he learnt that Shahbaz was picked for the U-14 Bihar State team. 

“He was afraid of his mother. She had strictly told him not to touch his cricket kit. But she was out of town for a family wedding. So we allowed him to attend the selection trials. We never expected him to go beyond that stage. But he got selected for the State team. I didn’t know what to do. Since his mother wasn’t aware of these developments I gave him permission to play. Mai ne kaha, ‘ja ji le apni zindagi’.” 

Nadeem made the most of his second chance. In his debut game for Bihar, the left-arm spinner bagged a seven-wicket haul against Odisha and that impressed batting great Dilip Vengasarkar, who was at the venue as a part of a talent hunt programme from BCCI. Nadeem then travelled to Sharjah for an exposure event.

All of a sudden, the narrative of Nadeem’s life witnessed a drastic change. But Mahmood was sure that only one son would play the game. He looked to Assad for sacrifice and his elder son obliged. “Shahbaz was making rapid strides. He needed all our support. It was heartening to see Assad take such a huge decision. He was certain to get a call up for the India U-17 national camp. But we were united as a family and Shahbaz was to get our full support,” says Mahmood. 

Nadeem, who has 428 first-class wickets,  has repaid his family’s immense faith. An emotional Nadeem thanked his father on television on his debut and that, to his father, is the biggest gift from his son.

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