More history beckons for all-round hero

22 August 2017

Expectations will be high when it comes to Shakib Al Hasan

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Cricket's pre-eminent allrounder is set to fill a glaring hole in his career CV when the two-Test series against Australia gets underway

About the Writer:

Andrew Ramsey is the senior writer for He previously wrote for the Guardian, The Australian, The Times, The Telegraph, The Hindu and Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack and the author of The Wrong Line.

In accruing achievements that - according to Bangladesh's long-serving Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina – elevates him to a "wonder of the cricket world", Shakib Al Hasan has pocketed more than his share of history.

The first cricketer to simultaneously hold the world's number one ranking in all three contemporary formats – Test, ODI and T20. An honour that he continues to claim.

At age 22 and four months, the youngest man to captain his country in Test matches with his inaugural match at the helm against the West Indies in 2009 securing Bangladesh's maiden offshore Test series success.

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The first Bangladesh player to earn a stint in England's county competition, and then at the KFC Big Bash League in Australia. And the first cricketer in the current century – and one of only three across the centuries past – to score a hundred and capture 10 wickets in a single Test.

Yet there is a glaring hole in the career CV of cricket's pre-eminent allrounder whose introduction to the game came as an adolescent fast bowler in village games, armed with a tennis ball featuring a seam fashioned from insulating tape.

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And who – when he opted to add left-arm spin to his bowling repertoire – took a wicket with his very first delivery using a proper leather cricket ball.

Not once during his 11-year tenure as an international cricketer has Shakib enjoyed the opportunity to face, bowl or even field a ball in a Test match against Australia.

Shakib had barely turned 19 and was still several months from his international call-up – an ODI against Zimbabwe in Harare – when Australia completed their one and only Test tour to Bangladesh in 2006.

Which, despite Australia taking an active role in securing Bangladesh's full membership of the ICC in the late 1990s and its subsequent elevation to Test status in 2000, remains the most recent of the four Test matches the two nations have fought over 17 years.

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That barren stretch is scheduled to end later this month when the first Test begins in Dhaka; the start of a two-match series that the latest ICC player rankings and Shakib's legion of loyal supporters suggest will be heavily influenced by the left-arm spinner and aggressive left-hand batter.

Former Bangladesh left-arm orthodox bowler Abdur Razzak, who played the first of his 12 Tests in the final match of that Australia 2006 tour at Chittagong, has foreshadowed pitches for the coming series will offer significant turn but little bounce, the sort of conditions in which Shakib revels.

"I think it will no doubt be helpful for Bangladesh to go with a spin-friendly track," Razzak told 'The Daily Star', Bangladesh's largest-circulating English language newspaper last week.

"It will be difficult for us to compete if we prepare a batting, or even a sporting wicket … and Shakib is the main spinner for us."

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Regardless of Australia's recent fallibility against left-arm finger spin on Asian pitches – India's Ravindra Jadeja (25 wickets at 18.56), Sri Lanka's Rangana Herath (28 at 12.75) and Pakistan's Zulfiqar Babar (14 at 26.36) have destroyed them on their past three sub-continent Test series – Shakib looms as Bangladesh's most potent threat.

According to the latest ICC Test player rankings, Shakib is number 16 among the world's best batters – only Steve Smith (1), David Warner (11) and Usman Khawaja (14) in Australia's 14-man squad outrank him.

Among the top bowlers, Shakib sits at 17 below only Josh Hazlewood (4) and Nathan Lyon (16) among the tourists, and he remains a clear number one as the world's best Test allrounder with the only member of Australia's Test squad to make the top 20 of that cohort, somewhat surprisingly, being Hazlewood.

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Who, despite his flint-dry country humour, would struggle to mount a credible comparison between his Test batting return of 259 runs at 13.63 (highest score 39) and Shakib's 3,479 at 40.92 including five centuries, the best of which was his 217 against New Zealand's highly rated pace attack at Wellington earlier this year.

If Australia is to reverse the stark trend since its previous Test tour to Bangladesh – two wins and 15 defeats from 22 matches on Asian pitches – then quelling Shakib will figure prominently among their pre-match planning for both bat and ball.

In addition to once more enlisting the expertise of India's former ODI left-arm spinner Sridharan Sriram as a consultant advisor, the Australians closely studied recent match footage of Shakib and his teammates to help overcome the yawning gap in direct experience of Bangladesh conditions.

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"We know what they're going to bring to the table," Australia's Bupa Support Team men's coach Darren Lehmann told prior to this squad's departure for Dhaka.

"We've just got to keep their big players really quiet, that will be the key for us."

What the vision of Shakib's match figures of 5-90 in Bangladesh's landmark 108-run against England in Dhaka last November, or his decisive 116 that crowned his nation's 100th Test with a win over Sri Lanka at Colombo months later won't fully convey is the 30-year-old's passion and volatility.

Unless the Australians' data analyst Dene Hills has found clips of Shakib's ODI century against New Zealand in 2010, during which he took issue with a member of the Dhaka crowd who walked in front of the sightscreen prompting Shakib to run the length of the field and threaten the startled soul with his bat.

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Or the occasion at the same venue the following year when members of the crowd lodged formal complaints about Shakib's animated response to their jeering, as well as the ODI against India at Dhaka in 2014 when he left the Bangladesh dressing room mid-innings to confront fans who he alleged were harassing his wife.

Shakib shares other characteristics with some of the sport's more mercurial figures of decades past.

In 2014, he was banned for six months from playing any cricket after the Bangladesh Cricket Board deemed his clash with spectators during that India game, along with his deteriorating relationship with national coach Chandika Hathurusingha, represented "serious misbehaviour".

"He has a severe attitude problem, which is unprecedented in the history of Bangladesh cricket," BCB President Nazmul Hassan said in announcing the suspension that was eventually commuted to three months after Shakib tendered an unconditional apology.

"We think that his behaviour is such that it's directly impacting the team.

"What is perhaps more alarming is that other players have started to behave like him.

"If this continues, our future will be destroyed."

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At the height of the stand-off, whispers emerged that Shakib might quit Bangladesh cricket and become a roaming T20 gun for hire, a path that would have doubtless netted him a comfortable living but might not have been received so well by the equally combustible fans in Bangladesh where he remains deeply revered.

Not that veneration brings with it blanket immunity in the Islamic nation of more than 160 million crammed into a country around half the size of Victoria, and which embraces cricket as its most powerful and pervasive presence on the global stage.

When the Shakib-led team was rolled for 58 by the West Indies in front of a furious home crowd in the early rounds of the 2011 World Cup, the allrounder's family home at Magura (between Dhaka and India's eastern border) was targeted by outraged fans who hurled stones and smashed windows.

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If folks in Shakib's home 'village' (a district of around one million people), where he grew up as an aspiring footballer only to learn as a teenager that his innate talent lay with cricket, can  turn on a favourite son then the expectation he will carry through the Australia series becomes a double-edged sword.

The fact that Bangladesh enter this rare encounter with Australia boasting a superior form line – they won their most recent Test outing, in Sri Lanka which is a feat that eluded Steve Smith's team at all three attempts last year – brings with it the pressure of enlivened home-crowd expectation.

When Shakib was growing up in Magura, there were no Bangladesh Test stars on which to pin his idolatry so he instead worshipped Pakistan's Saeed Anwar, India's Rahul Dravid and ageless West Indian Shivnarine Chanderpaul as his batting champions.

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With taped tennis ball in hand it was Pakistan captain Wasim Akram, although as he abandoned his fast bowling aspirations in favour of spin he added Saqlain Mushtaq and New Zealand's most accomplished left-arm orthodox tweaker Daniel Vettori to the pantheon.

The moment when Shakib emerged as a home-grown Test hero for Bangladesh fans who brimmed with hope but remained bereft of moments to celebrate came in 2008, at the instigation of former Australia batsman and now South Australia coach Jamie Siddons.

After taking over as coach of Bangladesh in 2007, Siddons believed that, despite Shakib's patent ball-striking capabilities as a lower-middle order batsman, his greatest and as-yet unfulfilled benefit in the Test arena would be as a bowler.

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A bold call given that Shakib's previous six Tests to that point had yielded him three wickets at the unsustainable cost of more than 104 runs each, but one that was immediately vindicated when – in his first outing as a specialist spinner – he snared 7-36 against New Zealand at Chittagong.

The best bowling by a Bangladeshi in Tests to that time, and a performance that was complemented later in the year when Shakib – who had been flogged wicketless on the opening day of the first Test against South Africa at Bloemfontein – learned the art of flight during overnight soul-searching in concert with his bowling coach, Mohammad Salauddin.

Shakib then returned the next morning to rip out five South African batsman for just 35 runs in 13 consummate overs, a performance that led former Australian leg spinner and devotee of the slow bowling craft Kerry O'Keeffe to ordain the Bangladeshi "the world's best finger spinner" at that time.

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As only the third allrounder – behind England's Ian Botham and Pakistan's Imran Khan – to claim a century and a 10-wicket haul in the same Test match, Shakib Al Hasan will be a focal point of the Australians' pre-match planning sessions in the lead-up to the series.

The tourists might also glean some character insights from their wicketkeeper Matthew Wade, who played alongside Shakib during his handful of games for the Melbourne Renegades in BBL|04 in 2014-15.

What they are unlikely to ascertain, however, is the answer to the question that the world's number-one ranked allrounder across international cricket's three forms is invariably asked whenever he sits down for a media conference or accepts his latest individual award.

Does he consider himself predominantly a batter or a bowler?

A query that's met with a well-worn smile, and an even more trafficked stock response.

"I am a cricketer," Shakib will inscrutably reply, knowing that the most belligerent Bangladesh fan can't quarrel with that assertion.

Australia in Bangladesh 2017

Australia squad: Steve Smith (c), David Warner (vc), Ashton Agar, Jackson Bird, Hilton Cartwright, Pat Cummins, Peter Handscomb, Josh Hazlewood, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, Glenn Maxwell, Matthew Renshaw, Mitchell Swepson, Matthew Wade.

Bangladesh squad: Mushfiqur Rahim (c), Tamim Iqbal, Soumya Sarkar, Imrul Kayes, Shakib Al Hasan, Mehidy Hasan Miraz, Sabbir Rahman, Nasir Hossain, Liton Das, Taskin Ahmed, Shafiul Islam, Mustafizur Rahman, Taijul Islam, Mominul Haque.

27-31 August First Test, Dhaka

4-8 September Second Test, Chittagong

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