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Pakistan vs Bangladesh: Shakib Al-Hasan leaves a mark

In match, between also-rans, Bangladesh all-rounder Al-Hasan stands out, goes atop run-getter chart.

Shakib Al-Hasan made 606 runs from eight innings with two hundreds and five fifties. (AP)

Did you see that on-the-up smashing drive from Shakib Al Hasan off Shaheen Afridi? But before that, it has to be registered it was in a losing cause, not unusual for Shakib this World Cup. Pakistan had first almost sulked, starting dourly without any intention with the bat but Babar Azam brightened them before another youngster Shaheen Afridi ended any Bangladeshi hopes of chasing 316 with a six-for. At the end of the game, as one walked around the arena, a few Pakistani shouted “India cheaters fixers” and placards were held “India you might win this one but gentlemanly game is dead”.

All that anger is known territory, lets get back to some Shakib rave, and to that shot in particular. But first some context.

There are shots that define a cricketing nation. A whip off the legs from India, the punchy-square-drives from Pakistan, the hook from the Caribbean, the pull from Australia, well-left from England (or so it used to be), and South African slog-sweep re-brought into fashion by Hansie Cronje (though that Zimbabwean Dave Houghton used to play that in the early 80’s).

Then there are shots that a player plays that defies the nation’s history – and becomes a template for the next generation. Sachin Tendulkar and his feisty-on-the-up-punch standing on his toes. Not many Indians played it before him; now many do.

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Likewise, Shakib plays a front-foot version of it these days. The bat almost recoils in his hand after impact.

Not many, if any, Bangladeshi batsmen play that shot. It’s not a shot you can play if you grew up on dusty crumbling Bangladesh tracks. How did that come into Shakib’s oeuvre? He used it with great effect in that awesome chase against West Indies and throughout this tournament which he has ended over 600 runs, third to do after Tendulkar and Mathew Hayden in a World Cup edition. It won’t be a surprise if the next-gen batsmen from Bangladesh reel of that shot. That’s how cricketing evolution usually happens.

He had the cut shot. Then the drives, sweeps, and other such staple that most Bangladeshi batsmen have. It’s this on-the-up sortie that elevates him into such a fantastic No.3 batsman, which by the way he had to fight for. Not many in the thinktank thought he was capable of that responsibility. When Chandika Hathurusingha was the coach, Shakib reportedly had a tense meeting with him on promoting him to No.3. The coach wasn’t convinced and Shakib had to wait. The first game after Hathurasinghe was replaced, Shakib walked out twirling his bat at No.3. Now it feels almost ridiculous to even imagine someone else to emerge from the pavilion at that spot.

Shakib had the cut shot. Then the drives, sweeps, and other such staple that most Bangladeshi batsmen have.

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Shakib triggers poetry in Bangladeshi newspapers. Not always the raving types but snarkier, darker stuff. Sometimes, literally. When he got out in a Test in Hyderabad last year, attempting a big hit, a daily carried a poet’s lyrics as headlines:

“I wish to die”, a dig at the self-destruction. The earlier evening, the journalist from that newspaper had asked Shakib a question at the presser.

“Kohli hit just one six in his four double hundreds, would you change your approach?” Shakib stared at the questioner, and slowly shook his head in disagreement. There was nothing to be said.

A year before that Shakib had done it again – another big shot, caught at mid-on and Test against South Africa spiralled out of control. “Awful, Reckless, Arrogant,” tweeted a journalist, usually calm and collected sort of a chap. Shakib stirs that in people; disappointment and love … dark and light. His wife too gets into the act now and then, berating the journalists, saying her husband doesn’t get the raves he deserves as he doesn’t take them to lunches.

A Shakib press conference can be at times tense, something resembling Kevin Pietersen’s in his end days where he even refused to answer questions from English journalists he didn’t like. A stare, a shake of head – that’s it, next question please. Shakib’s run-ins with his cricketing board and the odd coaches are known. He has done a pelvic-thrust, not unlike Govinda’s but on a cricket field, at the cameras. He bowls, he bats, he fields, he catches, he has captained, he still counsels younger players on field – and at times, he can be everywhere on the field. Like he has done this tournament.

Almost a solo show with the bat, threatening to drag his team where his ambition and desire took him.

Shakib triggers poetry in Bangladeshi newspapers. Not always the raving types but snarkier, darker stuff.

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The only thing that he misses is a bowling action that makes him stand out from other Bangladeshi players. Like that on-the-up shot. As he moves away from the top of his run-up, he goes through a joggers park uncle’s routine – shoulders shrug, arms whirl, and he seems to be doing that even as he jogs in. He is a clever crafty bowler who uses his batting instincts to test out the batsmen. A type of bowler who is a good batsman and so, anticipates stuff.

Not many fuss over field setting as him. The short fine-leg fielder is never quite correct – he would always be moved a little bit to left or right. Then he would draw the attention of the sweeper cover and make him do the same thing, never mind it would have been him who had placed that fielder in that spot a few balls before. Then just before he would start running, he would look over his shoulder at mid-on, who would immediately pretend to move, just to please him. All set, time to bowl. These days he also picks up tufts of grass and flings it into the air. To check the direction of the wind, presumably. For the drift or perhaps he just likes do it, who knows.

Shakib-al-Hasan’s sensational counterattacking century paved the way for Bangladesh’s first ever win over West Indies in World Cup. (AP)

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But it’s to that shot we shall return again. Not many left-handers play that. Kumar Sangakkara did it to great effect but his whole set up at the crease was perfect for that shot. Born to play that punch. His hands also would jar on impact. The memory is a bit fuzzy but can’t quite recall the young Shakib have that shot. Perhaps he did as he seems to have complete mastery over it. Shaheen thought he had his man when the bat thudded into the ball but all he could see was the ball fly through between him and the mid-on fielder.

Watching it was the West Indies media manager Philip Spooner, who had dropped in at Lord’s to catch some action. We get talking, that Shakib shot gets him talking and he tells a lovely story as narrated by Darren Sammy to him and the team.

“Once in Dhaka, I think Shakib was the captain and Sammy went out with him. The roar that went up from crowd when they saw Shakib was something else. God he is, God. And when he won that toss, oh how they roared. Sammy came back to the dressing room, and told the team, “Boys did you hear that noise? Just remember to look at me at start of overs, I will signal out the field changes or whatever. You guys are not going to hear anything out there when Shakib is batting.”

Sammy is right and wrong. When he was in Dhaka, he should have tuned in to Radio Shahdin on Friday nights from 11pm to 2am. Cricket talk in moonlit nights.

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The telephone lines get jammed as listeners call in. Last year, most of the talk revolved around two things: Mushfiqur Rahim’s captaincy and anger over some shot Shakib would have played to get out. But through this World Cup, Shakib has silenced all his critics and has got nothing but love from his countrymen. It’s about time.