A little over five years ago, during the Asia Cup in Dhaka, a local reporter who worked for The Daily Ittefaq (a Bengali paper) was talking about how Bangladeshis want their heroes to be humble and down to earth.
“See, in this part of Bengal, stardom is frowned upon. Even if you are a star, you must have your feet on the ground. On your side of Bengal (West Bengal), attitude and aggression from a star player is now accepted. It’s a trickle-down effect of India’s cosmopolitan culture and global profile,” the reporter opined. Like many others, he took Shakib Al Hasan’s cricketing exploits with a pinch of salt, although he accepted that purely on talent, the left-hander was miles ahead of his team-mates. Shakib had fallen out with then Bangladesh coach Chandika Hathurusingha. He had an altercation with a spectator during an ODI against India at Mirpur. The Bangladesh Cricket Board had suspended him for six months for “serious misbehaviour”.
“He (Shakib) has a severe attitude problem, which is unprecedented in the history of Bangladesh cricket. We think that his behaviour is such that it’s directly impacting the team,” BCB president Nazmul Hassan told reporters, adding: “What is perhaps more alarming is that other players have started to behave like him.” The suspension was eventually reduced after Shakib appealed.
Not the Bangladesh of old
Gone are the days when teams used to bully Bangladesh with pace and bounce. After South Africa, West Indies found that out to their detriment on Monday as the Tigers completed the highest successful chase of the tournament. The biggest score hauled down at this World Cup, before this game, was 244, and Bangladesh would give heart to chasing teams as batting first and getting over 300 on the board was considered a winning strategy till now. They showed that getting a solid and brisk start and playing sensible cricket through the middle overs was still the way to go after big targets. Intimidating opposition teams with speed used to be an effective tactic for West Indies in their heyday, but one needs genuine pace allied with control. Half the Caribbean attack seemed walking wounded, which compromised their bowling as well as fielding.
On Monday at Taunton, Shakib scored his ninth ODI hundred. It took his tally to 384 runs from four matches in this World Cup at an average of 128. After making his ODI debut in 2006 and prior to the ban in 2014, he had scored 3,688 in 129 matches at an average of 35.12. In the five years since returning from suspension, Shakib made 2,413 runs from 73 matches at an average of 41.60. He tops the ICC all-rounder rankings. The rap on the knuckles probably had a positive effect.
Bangladesh wants its heroes to be like Mashrafe Mortaza, the boy next door, who still doesn’t mind taking a cycle rickshaw to home, when his wife is using the family car to pick their child from school. Shakib is more of a pin-up boy who loves fast cars. The IPL experience has added to the aggressive, swashbuckling side of Shakib’s personality. The riches have helped him upgrade his lifestyle significantly. He has been a regular in the world’s wealthiest T20 leagues over the past eight seasons.
A few years ago, when he was playing for Kolkata Knight Riders, Shakib was asked during an interview if he saw himself as Bangladesh’s only serious superstar. “Not really, not really,” he blushed. Globetrotting – he is wanted in all T20 leagues – has made Shakib more suave than any other Bangladeshi cricketer.
Sample this, when Mortaza comes for press conferences, the majority of reporters from vernacular publications in Kolkata prefer to question him in Bengali. The Bangladesh ODI captain laps up the opportunity. When Shakib comes, the medium of communication remains English.
Those who know him at close quarters would confirm that the 32-year-old remains a soft-spoken and, at times, even shy – especially when someone is praising him – off the field. There’s a hint of similarity with Virat Kohli, whose all-out, aggressive approach on the field is somewhat contradictory to his off-field demeanour. By the way, the India captain and the Bangladesh’s star all-rounder get on very well.
At the 2018 IPL auction, Sunrisers Hyderabad roped in Shakib for Rs 2 crore. That KKR didn’t retain him had raised a few eyebrows. But the two-time IPL champions decided to change their recruitment policy going ahead. SRH mentor VVS Laxman, however, had described the new acquisition as the team’s “MVP” (most valuable player). “Shakib has the ability to turn the match around in any situation. Though he is good with the bat, he doesn’t get enough importance as a batsman,” coach Tom Moody had said.
Back in Bangladesh, Shakib divides opinion, as can be gauged by the Ittefaq reporter’s comments. But few would argue with the quality he offers as a player and his commitment. In January last year, Shakib had badly injured the little finger on his left hand during a tri-series in UAE. “The finger will never be 100 per cent,” he had said. For a long time even after full recovery, he played through pain. The recovery period, too, was painful and a bit lonely. Shakib’s little daughter Alaina had taken care of her father’s loneliness then. He aspired to play the World Cup final. “There’s no individual goal. I want to be the team’s biggest contributor in the World Cup,” Shakib had said last year during an interview with a Bangladeshi TV channel.
After the win against South Africa, he refused to call the result an upset. Today against West Indies, Bangladesh emulated their highest successful ODI run chase.
Brief Scores: Bangladesh 322/3 in 41.3 overs (Shakib-al-Hasan 124 not out, Litton Das 94 not out) defeat West Indies 321/8 (Shai Hope 96, E.Lewis 70, Shakib 2/54) by seven wickets.