It was the best spell of fast bowling I have faced in my career — Shakib Al Hasan on Umesh Yadav. The red ball had tailed in to rap the pad, the next one curved past the edge and both had speared through at a furious pace. Shakib knew he was in a battle. An internal monologue popped up in his mind: “play with soft hands, leave as much as possible”. Bangladesh were wobbling at 64 for 3 and the way Umesh was steaming in, it seemed the end was near. A lovely visual followed pretty soon. Shakib jabbed at a delivery and was lucky not to get any wood on it, and even as it reached the ‘keeper, he was seen violently shaking his head in self-admonition. Even though Mahmudullah fell to make it 109 for 4, Shakib was in the mood to fight, and Umesh was moving in for the kill.
Back in the day, reverse swing used to mean something else. These days once the ball swings in the direction of the shine, it’s called reverse. As Michael Holding told this newspaper, “At first, reverse swing was someone like Waqar Younis pushing the ball away from the right-hander with his action, and then the bias of the shine on the older ball swinging it back in. That’s why he was so devastating.”
The ball would curve away in the air, then tail back in really late. These days not many, if at all any, do it. It’s more tilting the ball with the shiny side, and that’s perhaps why the lengths too have shortened. And with the ball around 25 overs old, Umesh was hitting that length in a fiery spell in the morning, and Shakib knew he had to find a way out.
At the end of 2014, Shakib was threatening to cut ties with Bangladesh cricket. It was a year of tantrums for him. He said stuff against the board and media, pointed to his crotch on live television, and threatened to pull out of the team if he wasn’t allowed to go to the Caribbean Premier League. There wasn’t a dull month.
The Bangladesh board had a new president in Nazmul Hassan, someone from a political family and an industrialist, and he wasn’t in the mood to bow down.
He imposed a six-month ban on Shakib, and called him over for a chat. Apparently, some straight-talking was done — and news filtered through in the Bangladesh newspapers. Not many in the cricketing fraternity thought Shakib could be taken on, and once he was tamed, the rest fell in line. So, goes the story.
Shakib remains his own man, though. Some of his dismissals, like the one in Hyderabad, have left fans scratching their heads. He has refused to change his approach — as he reiterated in a fun press interaction where to a final question about whether he would change his approach, especially when Virat Kohli has hit just one six in his four double tons, Shakib didn’t say anything but just shook his head.
“If I change the approach, I wouldn’t be Shakib,” he had said a tad earlier as summation of his approach. He is one of the batsmen who love to feel the ball continuously. Not for them, the restrained leaves and cautious poking. Even in the midst of Umesh’s skilful spell, Shakib kept putting away the bad balls.
He didn’t allow R Ashwin to settle down at all, constantly using his feet to drive and cut. He fell charging out to Ashwin but failing to clear mid-on, triggering reactions from the press but he has made clear that he wasn’t going to change.
The one who doesn’t mind pushing and prodding around is captain Mushfiqur Rahim. Or take blows on his body as he did in the series in New Zealand.
Sometimes, his gutsy approach overwhelms the fact that he is a very good batsman. He opened up his stance and tackled the reverse swing with great skill. Guts, of course, was always going to feature in a Rahim knock.
In the final over of the day, Ishant hit him on the gloves with one that kicked up from back of a length and he was in great pain. Once the physio did his job and left, he gingerly got his hand inside the gloves and faced up to the next ball. A bouncer arrived and Rahim swivelled to crunch-pull it to the square-leg boundary.
Just when it seemed it was only going to be the senior pros offering resistance, enter the 19-year old Mehedi Hasan. Consider what the other youngsters had done until then. Mominul Haque got into a mix-up that led to Tamim Iqbal getting run out in the morning.
The left-handed Mominul himself was done in by a peach of a delivery from Umesh that seamed back in with the shiny side to trap him in front. Sabbir Rahman fell, trying to sweep Ravindra Jadeja, leaving Bangladesh at a precarious 235 for 6.
It was then that Hasan walked in without too many expectations for he hadn’t done much with the bat in his previous games. But not only did he dug in for a fine rearguard action, but also looked as if he belonged out there.
He created his own length by moving forward and back, and didn’t hesitate in cutting and driving. He brought up his 50 off 102 balls with 10 crisp boundaries that revived Bangladesh.
When Rahim did well to sway away from a vicious bouncer off the last ball of the day, the teenager ran across to punch his captain’s gloves. They walked back together — a pugnacious batsman and a talented kid, having ensured Bangladesh wouldn’t collapse meekly in their first Test in India.