By Peter Simunovich
In its centenary celebrations, the International Cricket Council has awarded five medals of honor to five officials who have made significant contributions to the game in the US. The ICC invited the USA Cricket Association to recommend five people after it had asked its regions to submit candidates. Syed Shahanawaz, a long time player, coach and administrator, is a recipient of the award. DreamCricket.com will interview each of the remaining recipients in the coming weeks.
Syed Shahanawaz followed a simple formula when he was the Director of the Central West Region. It was teamwork and unity, two words used over and over in locker rooms and team meetings of every team sport around the world.
In some circles, the word team means: Together Everyone Achieves More. In theory, this philosophy works, but there are a few other things that come into play, like getting people under the same umbrella, working as one and being able to communicate.
Shahanawaz, 41, used the unity and teamwork strategy to near perfection when he was appointed Director if the Central West Region from 2001 until the beginning of 2008.
It was a job he relished and eagerly took on because at the time the region was considered backward when compared with New York, Florida, Los Angeles and Chicago. He recalled the Central West Region did not participate in any national tournaments.
In 2001, the Central West Region was ranked No. seven in the eight regions that make up the United States Cricket Association. Shahanawaz faced a massive challenge to turn things around, but it did not shake his faith in believing it could be done.
“I took on the responsibility seriously,” he told DreamCricket.com in an interview. “I had to bring the six leagues in the region together so they could see the benefits of being united. It was mainly communication to put the concepts and process in place.
“We started to have tournaments within our own region and the leagues started to see the benefits.”
The strategy worked and major success came to the Central West Region in a big way. In the space of six years, the region won five Western Conference championships and was runner up in the other year. The Central West Region was runner up three times in the national titles.
“I loved the job and I thought it was a fantastic job to have,” said Shahanawaz. “There was phenomenal support after some setbacks.”
At first some of the leagues did not understand the benefits of being part of a unified region, but that is where his communicative skills came in.
He said: “My focus was to first lay a solid foundation in our region. It definitely did us proud and we were able to transform it into one of the most active regions in the country. And it was pleasing to see neutral sources recognize what we did.”
While the region transformed into a powerhouse under his leadership, Shahanawaz was quick to say that he could not have achieved success without the help of many, including Arun Vittala, a former region director; Jarrar Jaffari , the former president of Colorado Cricket League; John Gowan of North Texas Cricket Association; John Thickett, USACA treasurer; who was previously an administrator of Central Texas Cricket League; Tony Best of Houston League president; John Boaden, the former president of the North Texas Cricket Association; Yogesh Patel, former region director and Ahmed Jeddy, a USACA board member.
The Central West Region’s success also rewarded players Sushil Nadkarni, Rahul Kukreti, Usman Shuja and Niraj Shah by winning selection in the US national senior team.
Shahanawaz was thrilled and moved to be recognized by his peers and the International Cricket Council. He said: “It sure feels good. I’m fortunate because I truly believe there are lots of people out there like me who help this game grow by putting in their time and money.
“People had faith in me to put this together and lay a foundation for success.”
He estimated that he put in a minimum of between $10,000 to $15,000 of his own money and up to 20 hours a week of voluntary work. But the rewards clearly over shadow any hiccups along the way, leaving him satisfied with a job well done. “The important thing is that it has paid off. We have better tournaments, youth is coming to play and so is mainstream America. I don’t think it gets any better than that,” he said.
Sean Chapman, the Houston Cricket League secretary, described Shahanawaz as “a good guy who genuinely wants good things to happen in cricket. His heart is in the right place.”
Shahanawaz, 41, came to the US in 1991 from Bangalore, India, to study for his Masters in Business Administration. He lives with his wife and two children in Dallas, Texas, where he works as a technical director of a telephone company.
At school and college in India he was a batsman and medium pace bowler and scored a few 50s, collected several five and seven wicket hauls along the way and played with Sunil Joshi and Anil Kumbla, who went on to play Test and one day internationals with India.
When he first came to the US he settled in Edmond, about 15 miles from Oklahoma City in Oklahoma and played with Tulsa in the South West Conference. “The standard was pretty good with some very good talent from India and the West Indies,” he said. He later moved to Carrollton, a suburb of Dallas, and is now president of the Carrollton Cricket Club and still plays. “There is still a bit of cricket left in me,” he said.
In 1996 he became active in the North Texas Cricket League, serving as treasurer for a year as well volunteering as a coach, umpiring and administrative roles for several years before he became the Central West Region director.
Shahanawaz is a team player, a person who believes in unity with direction from the top. It was this philosophy that turned things into a positive direction in the Central West Region and he was rewarded by the ICC.
But while he could have basked in his 15 minutes of glory with the spotlight just on him, Shahanawaz did not forget those around him, who backed him with support and advice to get the job done. It is a sign of solid leadership.