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Wednesday, Aug 21, 2019

ICC World Cup 2019: With bat or ball, Shakib Al Hasan takes flight

Shakib Al Hasan is shouldering the onerous job of fulfilling Bangladesh’s World Cup aspirations as well as preserving his reputation as one of the finest all-rounders in white ball cricket.

cricket Updated: Jun 18, 2019 22:59 IST
Somshuvra Laha
Somshuvra Laha
Hindustan Times, London
Bangladesh's Shakib Al Hasan celebrates taking the wicket of South Africa's Aiden Markram.
Bangladesh's Shakib Al Hasan celebrates taking the wicket of South Africa's Aiden Markram.(AP)
         

In the 14th year of his international career, Shakib Al Hasan doesn’t need to prove himself. Yet it feels like he is reborn. Calm and assured every time he has held the bat, Shakib is shouldering the onerous job of fulfilling Bangladesh’s World Cup aspirations as well as preserving his reputation as one of the finest all-rounders in white ball cricket. Five wickets and 384 runs—the most runs scored at this tournament so far, comprising two centuries and two fifties—has made Shakib the impact player here in England. (In the process he became the fastest player to the ODI double of 6000 runs and 250 wickets, in 202 matches—only three other players own this distinction, with Shahid Afridi the second fastest at 294 matches)

Wind back to February though and this would have been nearly impossible to imagine. A finger injury picked up in the Bangladesh Premier League final had ruled Shakib out of the ODI series during New Zealand’s tour. A similar injury that became infectious had ruled him out in November 2018 as well, at a time he couldn’t have afforded to. This was the time when he was cementing his place as a No 3 batsman, a position he had coveted but been denied by former coach Chandika Hathurasinghe. When Hathurasinghe resigned in late 2017, Shakib had his way. He quickly began to own it, scoring 926 runs in 17 innings and taking his overall No 3 average to 59.68, his best at any position. Anchoring a stupendous chase—the highest in this World Cup—with a century against West Indies, the all-rounder made his strongest statement yet.

“Shakib Al Hasan has made it in this World Cup now. In every match he’s doing something that’s exceptional and let’s hope it continues for the team,” Bangladesh captain Mashrafe Mortaza said.

READ: Shahid Afridi identifies big reason behind India’s rise in world cricket

Winning against India and Pakistan will always rank high on Bangladesh’s wish list. But so is winning against West Indies. Bangladesh learnt a fair bit of cricket from them. Courtney Walsh is their current bowling coach. Gordon Greenidge was coach when Bangladesh won the ICC Trophy in 1997 to qualify for the 1999 World Cup. He was sacked in the middle of the World Cup though for protesting Bangladesh’s claim for Test status. They are not prepared, Greenidge had said. He was sent back on the next plane home. (All is forgotten though and now he holds an honorary citizenship of Bangladesh.)

Shakib too has his own love story with West Indies. Ten years back, when Mortaza couldn’t come out to lead the side on the final day of the first Test at St Vincent, Shakib took over. Along with Mahmudullah, he spun out West Indies for 181 and guided Bangladesh to their first ever overseas Test win. Two of Shakib’s closest friends are Andre Russell and Sunil Narine, courtesy the eight years spent together with Kolkata Knight Riders.

It was with KKR that Shakib had made the biggest splash as a T20 journeyman, starting 2011. It was, by his own admission, one of his more emotional involvements. A Shahrukh Khan fan, Shakib could rattle off dialogues from any of his movies. And he was as much Kolkata’s as he was Dhaka’s—“It’s only because of a fence that I have to play as overseas player,” he had said. “Even the flight’s just under 30 minutes!” Sweet talk like that and equally good performances meant Shakib was KKR’s blue-eyed boy for a long time. Stints with Adelaide Strikers, Barbados Tridents, Jamaica Tallawahs and Karachi Kings followed and Shakib not only became the leading all-rounder across formats but also Bangladesh’s busiest international cricketer.

The club versus country debate was waiting to erupt. It blew up in Shakib’s face when the Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) banned Shakib for six months in July 2014 for his severe ‘attitude problem’. Hathurusingha had complained that Shakib had threatened to quit Tests and ODIs. Another reason may have been Shakib leaving for the Caribbean Premier League without an No Objection from the board, an allegation he had denied. But there is no denying the complexity of his relationship with the board. He is captain one day, suspended another. And he never fails to speak his mind. He had once suggested Bangladesh shouldn’t play at home for two years because of expectations. That created quite a furore.

Just days before the team left for the tour of Ireland that preceded the World Cup, the BCB had arranged for a team lunch and a photo call. Back home from the IPL, Shakib went to meet his teammates at the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium in Mirpur, picked up his gear and left for the day without informing anyone. BCB chief Nazmul Hassan was least impressed. This has been Shakib’s story all along—he is crack with both bat and ball, he is also Bangladesh cricket’s little terror; with a disciplinary record that is no one’s envy.

His incendiary act at the tri-nation T20 series (India and Bangladesh being the other two) last year—asking the players to come off the field in protest of a decision—was met with censure from the ICC. Earlier in 2014, he was banned for three ODIs after making an indecent gesture during the live telecast of a match.

READ: Tahir two wickets away from scripting World Cup history for South Africa

On the ground, emotions get the better of him. Rarely does anyone look so animated—kneeling on knee, arms stretched and screaming his lungs out—while appealing. Dressing room rumour is that he can’t stand misfields even though he is fairly forgiving if someone drops a catch. But over and above everything, Shakib is a team man. The man who riles the authorities is also Moyna bhai, loved by his mates in the dressing room. And like his jersey number (75, now almost synonymous with Shakib), the nickname (after the bird, myna) too dropped out of nowhere.

“I was at the High Performance Center, from where most players graduate into the Bangladesh team. Once, during a camp, Naeem Islam (called Chhakka Naeem for his six-hitting prowess), one of my senior Bangladesh team-mates, started calling me moyna for no particular reason. Tamim Iqbal (Petla—paunchy) and Mushfiqur Rahim (Batool—short) have funnier nicknames than mine,” Shakib had told HT in 2010. (Considering mynas are fierce, fearless and territorial, this may have been inspired naming.)

There is no doubt Shakib is an icon. Walk through the busy Dhaka streets and you will find Shakib smiling at you from almost every billboard. He has at least 15-20 endorsements, from antivirus to telecom to app cab, making him the highest earning sportsman in Bangladesh. Only recently was he declared the country’s highest taxpayer as well. Like Mortaza, Shakib too had almost decided to stand for elections before pulling out at the last minute. Mortaza’s career maybe in its twilight but Shakib, the finest cricketer to come out of this cricket-mad nation, still has a lot to give. This World Cup is proof of that.

First Published: Jun 18, 2019 22:56 IST

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