Alas, the Shakib Al Hasan show in the World Cup ended with a whimper. Not the least because he didn’t turn up but his team finished comfortably second best against an inspired Pakistan side.
Has there ever been a story in the tournament’s history that deserved a happier ending? Sachin Tendulkar in 2003 and Lance Klusener in 1999 heroics come to mind but they at least came close to lifting the trophy.
Years from now, cricket connoisseurs will be surprised to see that even Shakib’s spell-binding efforts weren’t good enough to take his team to the semi-final. Runs, wickets, catches....this man could do it all – 606 runs at 86.57 and 11 wickets at 36.27. While the Indian camp’s quest for a three-dimensional man continues, Shakib had fine-tuned it and is closest we have to someone with absolute command of three-dimension-ness.
Bangladesh’s final league match was another such example of the all-rounder showing calm amidst the chaos. The top and middle-order threw away starts but Shakib held the fort. Nudging the ball into the gaps, cleverly picking out deliveries that could be put away to the fence and getting to a half-century, making it seem almost as if it was as routine as having breakfast and dinner.
He didn’t even raise his bat to acknowledge the cheers. There was a job at hand and was keen to cap off his majestic month-and-a-half in the United Kingdom with another win.
The No 3 masterstroke
Shakib, for very good reasons, enjoys superstar status back home. While he is his country’s greatest-ever cricketer and one of the best all-rounders of this century, off-field problems have often seeped into matters on the pitch in the past.
Not long ago, he was slapped with a brief suspension for having an “attitude problem”, has had frequent run-ins with the Bangladesh Cricket Board, and was accused of prioritising franchise cricket. There was also an embarrassing incident involving him showing lewd gestures during a match.
There was frustration bubbling under the surface. Perhaps, his team was not winning enough. A whale swimming in the pond-like confines of his own country if you will.
Those indiscretions could also be attested to him slowly coming out of his shell. Maybe, there was a notion that he was bigger than the game itself. Mind you, Shakib was a reluctant leader and his captaincy reign did not end well. But that is the mysterious bit about captaincy in cricket as a whole... the best players need not become the best captains.
With more experience and wisdom that was fine-tuned with rubbing shoulders and taking on the best in the business, Shakib felt that there was a lot more he could offer. He vyed for the No 3 spot, an idea that was initally shot down by former coach Chandika Hathurusingha. Number three is a place reserved for the technically best batsmen in the team. The move also gave him a vantage point in terms of reading match situations better and making adjustments with his approach.
“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,” Shakib had said after steering his team home in what was an improbable win against West Indies at Taunton.
Promoting himself was a gamble that may serve Bangladesh cricket well in the years to come. Since the start of 2018, the 32-year-old has scored 1148 runs at No 3 at a staggering average of 63.77.
Bangla tigers roar
Twenty years ago, there were tears of joy in the Bangladesh balcony as Aminul Islam’s side had sent shockwaves around the world with a stunning win over Pakistan, the runners-up in that edition.
The Tigers’ win over South Africa and West Indies witnessed half-hearted high-fives in the Bangladesh camp at the end of the match; such is the normalcy that we have come to accept of them slaying one of the big guns. After all, they had sealed the second-highest run chase in World Cup history with ridiculous ease.
Shakib has set the standards for this outfit, for the present and for the years to come. No longer are this side content with merely showing a brave face against the top echelons of world cricket.
The washed out game against Sri Lanka will be seen as the one that got away. While India blew them away with their bowling firepower towards the end in Leeds, Bangladesh might be looking at what might have been had Shakib batted for a few more overs. Even better, had some of their middle-order batsmen shouldered more responsibility. In the same vein, the tense encounter against New Zealand will also be seen as a missed opportunity. They came even closer to a win on that occasion.
A power-hitter here, another reliable frontline pacer there and it might have been a different story. Compared to the mountain of runs Shakib scored, his bowling has not grabbed as many eyeballs as it should have. It has not been a great World Cup for spinners but Shakib recorded the third-best economy rate among the slow bowlers with 10 or more wickets.
In the first powerplay, Shakib was often given the ball early to keep the run-flow in check. Shakib was once again in focus when his skipper Mashrafe Mortaza reflected on his team’s performance in the tournament.
“I am feeling sad for Shakib,” Mortaza said. “When a player of a team performs like this, normally that team should play in the semifinal. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen somehow.”
In the 2015 World Cup, Bangladesh beat England to reach the quarter-finals. Since then, they recorded their first bilateral ODI series wins over India, Pakistan and South Africa in the space of months.
There was also the small matter of registering their first-ever Test victories against England and Australia. Surely, bigger ambitions are in store for this fearless outfit in the next four-year cycle. Entering his best years and being close to attaining legendary status in world cricket, Shakib will be at the forefront of the next big leap Bangladesh takes.