Bangladesh's finest pursues greatness
He's the world's No.1 allrounder in all three forms, but Shakib Al Hasan still has plenty to prove
My grandfather used to tell me stories. He used to tell me, “When you grow up, you will become so big that everyone in the world will know you. When you come to your home town, people will stand and clap you.”
There’s a certain irony to the predictions made by Shakib Al Hasan’s grandfather when Bangladesh’s greatest-ever cricketer was but a small boy.
In some ways, they’re almost prescient.
Now 27, Shakib is lauded whenever he returns to his home town, but also beyond, having taken superstardom in Bangladesh to a new level courtesy of an intriguing mix of cricket ability and charisma.
In 2012, his wedding was broadcast live across a number of national television channels. Younger teammates have happily admitted to idolising him. And Shakib himself concedes it has been a long time since he could openly walk the streets of Dhaka without creating a national incident.
Yet the irony exists because few have achieved what Shakib has managed in the sport without drawing the traditionally requisite global headlines.
Celebrating another wicket against Zimbabwe last November // Getty Images
This is a man who sits alongside Imran Khan and Sir Ian Botham as the only men in Test history to take 10 wickets and score a century in the same match, yet theirs are names that dwarf the Bangladeshi outside the country of his birth.
This week he achieved something equally remarkable, becoming the first player in the history of the game to achieve the ICC No.1 ranking in one discipline across all three formats concurrently.
That his is the allrounder craft only adds to the significance of the achievement.
But the story of Shakib Al Hasan goes well beyond records and rankings.
Currently in Australia as part of the Renegades’ squad for BBL|04, he is an anonymous figure in cosmopolitan Melbourne, and remains a relative unknown in this country even when plying his trade with bat or ball – particularly in comparison to the likes of teammates Finch and Bravo.
That despite already earning a man-of-the-match award for his spell of 4-13 against Brisbane Heat in his third match for the club.
Shakib showed an Australian audience what he was capable of with 4-13 in BBL|04
It’s a far cry from his standing in the world’s eighth-most populous country, where he is the most famous individual among a staggering 160 million.
“No, no I can’t,” Shakib tells cricket.com.au when asked about walking the streets of Dhaka, his country’s capital and home to 14 million people despite being just seven per cent the size of Sydney.
“I don’t go to any of the shopping malls – I can’t go there. I go to a few of the restaurants, but selected ones. I don’t go out much.”
The son of a government-employed banker, Shakib divided his childhood between soccer (a sport he still prefers over cricket) in the mornings, and cricket in the afternoons.
By 15, he was representing his country, bowling his left-arm orthodox spin for his allotted 10 overs and batting at the top of the order.
A dozen years later, little has changed.
But in another way, everything has changed.
Surely the world’s No.1 allrounder tag carries with it responsibility and pressure?
“Responsibility, yes. Pressure, no,” Shakib says.
“It’s not pressure when you enjoy it, and I enjoy this. It’s very, very special.”
Shakib returned to ODI cricket with a bang in 2014 // Getty Images
Predictably, the recent fortunes of the Bangladesh national side have ebbed and flowed in line with those of their star allrounder.
And they’ve only just emerged from the nadir.
The 2014 calendar year brought with it a suspension for Shakib and a 13-match winless run across all international forms for Bangladesh.
The horrible slump – which included a humiliating defeat at the hands of Hong Kong in the Bangladesh-based World T20 tournament – and the fall from grace of their hero had many Bangladeshis disillusioned with their nation’s cricketing fortunes, and future.
“It was difficult for me personally, and for the team,” Shakib says, steering the conversation away from the controversial suspension he received after an argument with national coach Chandika Hathurusinghe.
“We haven’t done well. We had a very good opportunity, especially the T20 World Cup at home.
“We prepared well, there were some close games we didn’t win, some luck didn’t (happen) for us.
“Overall it was a bad time for us, but we ended with a high note – against Zimbabwe we played very well, and hopefully we take that confidence into this year’s World Cup.”
In July, Shakib was criticised by Bangladesh Cricket Board president Nazmul Hassan for having “a severe attitude problem” following the dispute with Hathurusinghe, and prevented him from taking part in the overseas domestic T20 competitions in which he had become a regular fixture.
The incident put another stain on Shakib’s chequered disciplinary record.
In May 2013, he’d been fined 75 per cent of his match fee after pleading guilty to showing serious dissent at an umpire's decision in an ODI against Zimbabwe.
In February 2014, he was banned for three matches by the BCB for "making an inappropriate gesture on live television" in an ODI against Sri Lanka.
Some claim Shakib had been afforded too much leeway by the BCB due to his status as the country’s biggest sporting drawcard.
Yet the fallout with Hathurusinghe was clearly the final straw. The ban meant he missed the T20 Champions League with Indian Premier League side Kolkata Knight Riders, but two months later, while still in the initial six-month suspension window, he was permitted to return to the national side.
And so came the high note against Zimbabwe he refers to.
In the first of a five-match ODI series, Shakib made a century and took four wickets to orchestrate his side’s victory and end what had been a miserable run.
In the Tests that followed, he matched the record of Imran and Botham and by the completion of the series he had Mitchell Johnson for company as the two men to take 15 wickets (he took 18) and score more than 250 runs (he made 251) in a three-Test series.
Shakib's third Test hundred came against Zimbabwe last November // Getty Images
Of course, the caveat often cited with Shakib is that many of his greatest feats have occurred against weaker nations, such as Zimbabwe.
Certainly it’s true, to a point.
Yet it should also be noted that he’s taken at least one Test five-wicket haul against every nation he’s played. He’s also made Test hundreds against New Zealand and Pakistan.
The one omission from Shakib’s Test record is Australia, a team his country hasn’t faced since 2006, a year before Shakib debuted as a 20-year-old.
The left-armer and left-handed batsman claims he excels against the strongest opposition, but it’s that sort of scheduling restriction that has largely constrained him from the opportunity to prove that.
“Yes, I love the competition,” he says. “I’ve got a poor performance record in our domestic cricket competition, so I don’t enjoy that much; I just go out and play and never do very good there.
“I think (international cricket) is a challenge I like most, and it encourages me to do well every time, and is the part I like most about playing cricket.”
One gets the sense that 2015 could very well be the year upon which Shakib’s career is measured. That’s in no small part due to the World Cup, but beyond there’s even more significance: a host of powerhouse nations await the Bangladeshis in the Test arena.
“The World Cup is perfect,” Shakib says.
“To perform on the big stage is a great opportunity – not for me only, but for the team as well, because we’re still improving and we need to show to the world that yes, we’re an improved team now and we can beat bigger teams.
“We did it in the 2007 World Cup – we beat India and South Africa.
“In the 2011 World Cup we beat England, so hopefully this time we’ll beat some big teams and qualify for the second round – that will be a great achievement for us.
“This year we are playing at least four home (Test) series against big teams – Pakistan, India, Australia and South Africa.
“That will be great. We don’t get much of a chance to play so many Test matches in a year – we hardly play three or four Tests normally which is not ideal to improve your Test cricket, but hopefully this year gives us a very good opportunity.
“I think at the moment we’re a very good team, but against these guys it won’t be easy, but hopefully we will be up for the challenge and we do well. At home we are a confident team now – we can do well against any of the big sides.”