When it comes to the contemporary all-round game, no one else is as good
I have two favourite Shakib Al Hasan stories. Since I’m watching the Tigers bat against Zimbabwe and Shakib has just come in to start his innings, I thought I’d share them with you.
Both of them are from the World Cup of 2019, held in England and Wales. I had the good fortune of watching two matches of that tournament live, the ones against India and Pakistan, held at the Edgbaston Stadium at Birmingham and the Lord’s Cricket Ground in London respectively.
The first story, from the India match, is only tangentially about Shakib really. But I think it gives a good indication of the way he influences a match even when he’s not one of the principal actors at a certain point; and it’s the kind of thing you only notice if you’re actually at the stadium watching.
It was towards the end of the Indian batting innings. India already had 298 on the board, and the dangerous Dinesh Karthik was at the crease. Mustafizur Rahman has bowled the first ball of the 48th over when he, Shakib, and Mosaddek Hossain, who was fielding at the deep mid-wicket position, get together for a quick discussion.
They break soon after, Mosaddek comes up to a shorter mid-wicket position, Shakib goes back to wherever he was fielding, and Mustafiz sets up to bowl the next ball. And the next ball is a cracker. The Fizz rips his rubbery wrist across the ball to bowl an off-cutting bouncer, but he bowls it slow, and this throws off the timing of Karthik’s attempted pull, and the ball balloons up for Mosaddek to backpedal left and take a simple catch five yards inside the edge of the ring.
The fact that a plan had just come together was evident in the glee of Mustafiz, Mosaddek, and Shakib. I remember jumping up and shouting: “Did you see that?” and the English young man who was seated next to me, alongside his South Asian-looking, presumably Indian, lady friend, reluctantly admitting that he had.
It was one of those brilliant cricketing moments that wins the grudging admiration of the opposition. And I had the distinct impression from the body language of the three players that Shakib was the one who had hatched the plan.
The second favourite memory is much more straightforward. Bangladesh had again given away too many runs, and Soumya Sarkar, as he tends to do, had just surrendered his wicket after hitting four very pretty boundaries and scoring a run-a-ball 22. Shakib Al Hasan, who was famously having a blinder of a tournament with the bat, was coming to the crease.
We were obviously on our feet applauding his arrival, but then I noticed an interesting thing: The fans in the Pakistan colours were on their feet too. I most vividly remember a middle-aged Pakistani gentleman in the row in front of ours standing and applauding along with his young son, and speaking in tones of hushed reverence about Shakib.
Any Bangladesh cricket fan will understand how I felt at that moment. We had spent our childhood and youth hero-worshipping the Sunil Gavaskars, the Kapil Devs, the Javed Miandads, the Imran Khans. Now we had one of our own who was fit to be in the company of those giants. One of us was a hero to cricket lovers the world over.
Shakib didn’t do very well in today’s match. There will be days he will fail. But as he showed during that World Cup tournament, when he is switched on and hungry, when he feels he has something to prove and is playing for the highest stakes, there aren’t that many who are better at what he does. When it comes to the contemporary all-round game, there is hardly anyone who has been as good as he has been, or for as long.
I can understand why cricket-watchers of Bangladesh have a love-hate relationship with Shakib. There is something profoundly un-Bangladeshi about the way Shakib approaches his game. The middle-class in Bangladesh is taught to be meek. They are expected to keep their voices low and opinions to themselves. They are told one must not ask for too much.
Shakib Al Hasan, on the other hand, asks for everything that is on offer. His ambition is naked, unrestrained, and he just happens to have the ability, drive, and focus to achieve anything he sets his mind to. We are not used to seeing one of our own shine so bright. We find the glare blinding.
But that is fine. It doesn’t really matter how we feel about him; whether we approve of his conduct at play or the way he lives his life.
After all, you and I aren’t going down in history. Shakib Al Hasan is.
Tanvir Haider Chaudhury has spent most of his career as a banker and is now running a food and beverage company.