West Indies had never lost a World Cup match against Bangladesh. West Indies had lost to Bangladesh eight out of the 10 times they have met in recent times. So, when the two sides met in Taunton on Monday, something had to give.
As it turned out, the world’s best all-rounder would have the biggest say in the end result.
Shakib al Hasan, who opened the bowling against England for Bangladesh, was surprisingly kept out of the attack by Mashrafe Mortaza for 20 overs against the West Indies. Perhaps, he was being held back for the big-hitters in the Windies middle order. Perhaps the Bangladesh captain wanted his premier all-rounder to bowl to the opponent’s premier all-rounder. Perhaps, Mortaza did not expect his ace left-arm spinner to fare well against the opponents left-heavy top-order.
Shakib went for 26 runs in the first 14 balls he bowled in Taunton. Perhaps, Mortaza was right in holding him back.
In the first match featuring Bangladesh in the 2019 World Cup, popular commentator Mark Nicholas sounded very surprised by the fact the Shakib was the world’s No 1 all-rounder in the 50-over format. He was not only surprised by it, he wanted you (the viewer) to be as well. But anyone who has followed the game long enough would know that Shakib has held that position, rightfully so, for a while now.
Not Ben Stokes, not Hardik Pandya, not Glenn Maxwell... it has been Shakib who has been the world’s best when it comes to delivering the goods with both bat and the ball.
It was not turning out to be the best day with the ball for Shakib in Taunton. West Indies, who took their time to get going after being asked to bat first, had somehow figured out that the best way to deal with Shakib was to hit him out of the attack early on. But, off the 15th delivery he bowled in the match, he tossed the ball up to Evin Lewis despite being hit for a six two deliveries earlier. The ball drifted away from the left-handed opener, who was looking in ominous form, ever so slightly. That drift is all it took for Lewis to slice the ball to long-off instead of depositing it over the long-on fence like he intended to.
A big breakthrough for Bangladesh.
“One of the craftiest bowlers around in world cricket,” Mark Nicholas would observe later in the day about Shakib. Maybe, just maybe, he was wrong to be surprised by the Bangladeshi’s stature after all.
Nicholas Pooran, arguably the most impressive batsman for the Windies so far in this tournament, had already hit a six down the ground that would go down as one of the shots of the tournament. It broke the roof at one end of the quaint English stadium. It really did. But Shakib did not care about that six Pooran had hit off Mehidy Hasan. He was determined to prove his mettle with the ball instead. In the 33rd over of the West Indies innings, the Bangladeshi all-rounder struck again, once again deceiving a big-hitter with flight and drift. Shakib’s second wicket of the match.
But hey, he was not done yet.
A little while into the start of the second innings in Taunton, the broadcasters showed a footage of the pitch being prepared for the match. Standing behind the stumps, Shakib held his bat in hand and shadow-practiced ducking and swaying away to imaginary bouncers. He knew. Shakib knew that West Indies were going to target him with the short-pitched balls that had already rattled a few batting line-ups in this tournament so far. Shakib was getting himself ready for the challenge.
Coming into this match against West Indies, Shakib’s scores in the World Cup read: 75, 64, 121. Three innings, three superb knocks littered with shots of the highest quality. Surely, the law of averages had to catch up with him some time? Well, that would not happen in Taunton against the West Indies. Add another century to his tally, thank you very much.
It’s all well and good to practice ducking and swaying at an imaginary bouncer, but when the big, burly West Indies bowlers come hurtling at you with their pace, it can intimidate any batsman. Not Shakib, not in Taunton.
The left-hander, from the minute he came out to bat, showed tremendous presence at the crease to cut and pull any short ball that was there to cut and pulled.
There were the precise square cuts off the back-foot against Shannon Gabriel when the bowler missed his line a tad bit. There were the pull shots off Andre Russell even when the ball was heading for his helmet grille. And whenever Oshane Thomas erred in his length, he was punished in front of and behind point.
There was no mercy from the bat of Shakib. He would later go on to say that he was ready for the short-ball barrage from West Indies, and felt that once the Plan A did not work for them, they would not be left with too many options. “They did not bowl the right lengths frequently enough.”
Shakib has the reputation of being one of the smartest cricketers in the world today and he showed why.
But as marvellous as his stroke-play against the bouncers were, it was his disdainful smacks down the ground that stood out in what will go down as one of the best knocks in a run-chase in World Cup history. Shakib plundered 36 off his 124 runs down the ground and that included a myriad of drives and tennis-forehands. He saw the cricket ball like a football, and every time he wanted to punish the West Indies bowlers, he did so with a slap down the ground. And with every one of those hits, he sucked the life out of the West Indies bowling attack. By around the 30th over mark, the men in Maroon had given up.
“Why did you ask the selectors and team management for yourselves to be promoted to No 3 at this World Cup?”
That was one of the questions posed to Shakib at the end of the match, after Bangladesh had completed the run-chase with more than 50 balls to spare (the first ever time that has happened in a World Cup match while chasing 300-plus). He paused for about 30 seconds. Why did he do that, indeed.
“I don’t know,” was all he could muster after that long pause.
But he collected his thoughts soon enough to say, “I know if I bat at three I’ll get more opportunities, more time to bat. What happens sometimes if I bat at 5, is I’ll come in at the 30th over or 40th over, which I felt is not ideal for me.”
Four matches played in the World Cup, four 50-plus scores with two of them 120-plus. And, in Taunton on Monday, Shakib was the architect of Bangladesh’s highest-ever ODI run-chase, completed with alarming ease. He might have surprised a few with his stature of being the best all-rounder in the world before the World Cup began... but he certainly is making sure no one will have any doubts whatsoever by the time this tournament ends.
A tiger does not always have to be cornered to roar and conquer the world, it can also establish its superiority by just being a majestic creature that it is meant to be.
Shakib al Hasan, at this World Cup, is proving just that.