Valour, Resolve and Shakib -I

Bangladesh cricket is on the rise today, be it in limited overs cricket or in Test matches. They have come a long way from being a punching bag for the stronger teams to becoming potential giant killers with a bunch of talented players. Their recent draw against Pakistan and victory over England within 3 days at home cemented the fact that they are well on their way to shedding their “minnow” tag in Test cricket.

The change in Bangladesh cricket was long overdue, given the huge support for the team back home. However, numerous changes in coaching positions, poor infrastructure and management, a musical chair selection policy never helped. The change started coming in a small but effective way; at the heart of this change there were a few players leading the way. It goes without saying that the most prominent of them is Shakib Al Hasan. Like others, he started at the bottom of the ladder, fought against the odds, kept rising, and today stands as the most important player for the team and one of the best in the world. But here lies the catch: he played for a team that barely won, had no world class players around, and lacked determination.

In this article, we look back at his early days, the major performances, the achievements, and his rise as the first truly world class cricketer from Bangladesh.

Debut and World Cup 2007

Shakib made his ODI debut vs. Zimbabwe in 2006, with Bangladesh looking to test its bench strength as the series was already decided in Zimbabwe’s favour. He took Elton Chigumbura’s wicket, and followed it up with 30*. In September that year, he was handed a rookie contract by BCB.

Shakib then went on to become a regular member of the Bangladesh side, picking up his first Man of the Match award against Scotland in December, with a spell of 1/13 in 10 overs and an unbeaten 20. In the ICC Associates tri-series played in February 2007, Shakib scored his maiden ODI century (134*) vs. Canada at Antigua Recreation ground and picked up the Man of the Match award.

Shakib was included in the World Cup squad for 2007. In Bangladesh’s remarkable win against India that helped them progress to the second round, the entire limelight was grabbed by Mortaza’s bowling and Tamim’s aggressive batting; however, it was the steady middle-overs batting by Shakib and Mushfiqur that helped them secure the win. The job was not yet done when Shakib came to bat at 79/3. He took on Harbhajan for a big 6 and hit 5 more boundaries on his way to 53 before he was stumped by Dhoni off Sehwag with Bangladesh 163/4 already cruising towards victory.

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Bangladesh pulled off another famous win vs. South Africa in the second round, beating them by 67 runs. Shakib did his part as a bowler, picking up the wickets of Kemp and Boucher for 49 runs.

Bangladesh faced England on 11th April in the tournament; Shakib picked up another half century as the lone warrior in a dismal batting performance. He scored 57 and remained unbeaten as Bangladesh got bowled out for 143, ultimately losing the match and effectively ending their progress in the World Cup. It was the highest individual score for a Bangladeshi at World Cup that time. While Ashraful, Mortaza, Bashar were still the prominent faces for Bangladesh, a new hero was on the rise.

In the T20 World Cup later that year, Shakib took 4/34 vs. West Indies, making him the first Bangladeshi player to take more than 3 wickets in T20 match.

Bangladesh Tour of Pakistan (2008)

In April 2008, Bangladesh visited Pakistan, with the hosts being firm favourites. Shakib was selected as an all-rounder and emerged as the most successful player for Bangladesh. In the 3rd ODI, Shakib bagged the two key wickets of Mohammad Yusuf and Shahid Afridi in back to back overs; however, he ended up being expensive. While batting, he pumped oxygen into middle order while chasing a stiff target of 309, scoring heavily against bowlers like Shoaib Malik and Iftikar Anjum and valiantly put up 75 off 73 balls before getting bowled by Afridi.

His personal best came in the 4th ODI. While Bangladesh slumped to 10/3, Shakib came in to bat and immediately took on veteran bowlers like Umar Gul and Mohammad Asif, scoring freely on both sides of the wickets. As Bangladesh kept losing wickets regularly, Shakib held one end up, rotating strike and attacking when required. He played the spin of Shoaib Malik and Fawad Alam quiet comfortably, sweeping them to square leg and striking through the cow corner. He reached his 2nd ODI century and ended up scoring 108, to a standing ovation from the dressing room although his team was limited to 210. Bangladesh eventually lost the series 5-0, with Shakib accumulated 192 runs and 5 wickets in the series and came up as a promising player for of Bangladesh.

Rise as a bowler (2008)

Shakib provided promise with the bat, but he did not do anything remarkable with the ball before New Zealand toured Bangladesh in 2008 for ODI and tests. While the ODI series was average, the first test match at Chittagong marked his rise as a bowler, when Jamie Siddons, the coach of Bangladesh, decided to play Shakib as a specialist.

Bangladesh ended their first innings with 245 on the board; when New Zealand came in to bat, they were in for a nightmare. Shakib struck back to back in the 15th and 17th overs to remove Jamie How and Jesse Ryder, as New Zealand struggled against spin. His arm ball came into play when he trapped Redmond in front of the stumps. He orchestrated a collapse, taking 7/36 as the host restricted the visitors for 171. Shakib followed it up with a fine 71, but just like always, Bangladesh lost the test match from a strong position thanks to some heroic effort from Daniel Vettori. While Shakib made his mark, the disappointing failure of Bangladesh put a veil on his performance.

Bangladesh toured South Africa in November 2008, for ODIs and Tests. Shakib offered futile resistance in the 1st ODI scoring 51 and taking 2/48, but his real act of valour came in the test series that followed.

In the first test, Shakib troubled the hosts with his bowling.  As pace bowlers kept it tight, Kallis decided to take him on , but a muscued shot was latched on by Ashraful. Then he lured AB de Villiers into stepping out and losing his wicket almost immediately. His arm ball cleaned up Boucher before Morkel and Steyn fell prey to him giving him his first away five-wicket haul in Tests. Although Shakib finished with a respectable 5/130, Bangladesh slumped to an innings defeat.

Shakib valiantly repeated the feat in the second match, this time with more bite. He ripped through Kallis’ defence and removed Amla and AB de Villiers in quick succession as South Africa collapsed to 134/5. Later he ran through the tail taking 3 wickets in 4 balls and finished with 6/99. Shakib’s bravery with the ball failed yet again, however, as his team lost in the same manner.

When Sri Lanka toured Bangladesh in December, Shakib proved his mettle once again. In the first test, he bagged another 5-for as he hunted down Sangakkara, Dilshan, Jayawardene, and Samaraweera in exchange for only 70 runs in his 28.4 overs. He troubled the veterans with his accuracy flight and his arm ball which bowled Jayawardene. While fighting to save the test in the 2nd innings, Shakib contributed immensely with the bat, grinding out 96 runs, surviving for 287 minutes and 212 balls, before getting dismissed by Dhammika Prasad. Shakib was awarded the Man of the Match award for his all-round display, although Sri Lanka won the match convincingly. Between October and the end of December Shakib had bagged four 5-wicket halls, 2 of which had come away from home, in South Africa.

While his individual performances were gathering praise, his team’s poor returns did not help his cause as he was yet to become a strong match winner for the team in any format. That scenario was about to change soon.

All-rounder No. 1

Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka toured Bangladesh for a tri series in January 2009. By this time Shakib was the only consistent performer of the team in both ODIs and Tests, an impact player whom the opposition respected.

Zimbabwe played against Bangladesh in the first match, with the hosts being favourites. Shakib led the bowling unit, trapping Sibanda and Sean Williams lbw and then dismissing Utseya cheaply. He finished with figures of 10-3-23-3.

Bangladesh started off their innings shabbily, losing 3 wickets for 32 runs in the 12th over when Shakib came in to bat. He immediately attacked Mupariwa, scoring 2 boundaries in the over, and then steadied the run rate by taking quick singles and twos. He built a good partnership with Ashraful, but after scoring half century succumbed to Elton Chigumbura for 52. After his dismissal, Bangladesh lost the match, putting themselves under huge pressure and making their progress to the final uncertain.

In their next match against Sri Lanka, Bangladesh was not expected to win. Although Sri Lanka started the match as favourites, in a 31 over match they were reduced to 147 thanks to some aggressive bowling by Mortaza and Rubel Hossain. Bangladesh needed to chase down the target within 25 overs to earn the bonus point. The start as usual was horrible as Bangladesh lost 3 wickets for 11. The onus was once again on Shakib Al Hasan, who came out to bat with a big task ahead of him.

Captain Ashraful, a natural aggressor and often reckless, decided to play a more slow and steady knock and allowed Shakib to take charge of the chase. Shakib looked aggressive from the beginning as per the situation. With Sri Lanka in control, he cut loose in the power play, dispatching Kulasekara and Thilan Thusara for a flurry of boundaries and suddenly the crowd came alive. When Matthews came into the attack, he tested Shakib with short balls, one of which was sent out of the ground as Shakib executed his favourite hook over deep midwicket. After the powerplay, both began to rebuild patiently. They were determined to deny the spin duo of Mendis and Muralitharan any wickets and the partnership grew. Shakib reached his 50 off 45 balls as Bangladesh reached 84/3 after 16 overs.

Kulasekara was brought back and he struck immediately. Ashraful couldn’t control a hook shot and was caught by Jayasuriya as the 91 run stand ended. Shakib took the attack back to Kulasekra in the 21st over. Straightaway he shuffled across the stumps playing an effective scoop shot past the keeper for a boundary. The 3rd ball was banged short on the leg stump; Shakib made room and cracked that over extra cover for six. He had taken 13 runs of that over. Sri Lanka struck again as Mendis removed Raqibul hasan in the 22nd over.  Bangladesh was 127/5, and all of a sudden there was uneasiness in the crowd and dressing room. There was pressure on Shakib to pull it off by the 25th over as Muralitharan prepared to bowl.

Shakib was defiant, as he bullied Muralitharan in the crucial over. The very first delivery was dispatched to the cover boundary. Later in the over, Shakib made room to a leg-sided overpitched delivery, and dispatched it with brute force between mid-off and cover. These boundaries released all the pressure. Naeem Islam finished the match with a six off Mendis as the hero of the chase Shakib remained unbeaten on 92*(69).

Bangladesh achieved the bonus point, beating a strong Sri Lanka and made their way into the final.  Their prime player had now played a match winning knock.

But Bangladesh lost the final to Sri Lanka, in a low scoring thriller. Shakib failed with the bat, scoring only 9 out of 152 runs. While Sri Lanka struggled chasing it down, Shakib almost won them the match taking out Sangakkara and Kulasekhara, leaving them at 114/8 as he finished 2/22 in his 10-over spell. A fantastic cameo from Murali punctured the hopes of the host as Sri Lanka lifted the trophy.

Shakib won the man of the series award, for his 153 runs and 5 wickets, his first ever in an ODI series. He was later declared the ICC no.1 All-rounder, but his tale of heroics had only begun.

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Written by:  Supriyo Das
Photo Courtesy: Cricinfo image gallery.

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