“He does not say it, but I think Shakib wants to become the man of the series in this tournament.”
Now you can make what you will of the above quote by Bangladesh team manager Khaled Mahmud Shujon, said to the travelling group of journalists the day after Bangladesh beat South Africa on June 2nd to bring cricket’s World Cup alive, and serve its own quest for glory the perfect note on which to start. Shakib in that first game, on his way to picking up the first of two man-of-the-match awards in the tournament's first half, had turned in a classic all-rounder’s performance: a brisk 75 with the bat, full of the intent and effervescence that marks him out at his best. It helped his team challenge Faf du Plessis and his men to post the highest ever chase in a World Cup game if they wanted the points.
It was no walkover in the end, but then you never really felt the game getting away from Bangladesh either. Shakib proceeded to bowl his 10 overs for a miserly 50 runs, picking up the wicket of Aiden Markram along the way, with an absolute peach of that arm ball of his, going with the arm and zeroing in on the stumps like a tornado that has nowhere else to go. Increasingly rare, as he grows more and more detached from his primary skill. And hence vintage. Yet you knew he would have been more satisfied with the work batting at 3.
Now let me put my hand up and admit, that despite being one of Shakib’s most ardent backers, recognising his arrival as "the advent of the modern cricketer" in Bangladesh, and believing him to have attained the status of Bangladesh’s greatest, most accomplished cricketer before he had blown out even 25 imaginary candles on a birthday cake, the move to number 3 that he had manufactured for himself (as only he could, and would) prior to the World Cup did not sit comfortably with me. Blame it on the cricket tragic in me, yet I do find myself still dreaming at times, that Shakib would start taking his bowling seriously again. Finding new life as a number 3 at this stage of his career would probably mean the end to his bowling ambitions altogether. And yet ask any other member of the Club of Tragics, and they’ll tell you that for all his batting prowess and heroism, it is that flight and the guile and those wiles that he brings to the crease with the ball, that is the stuff of true cricketing magic.
Try and say that when the man is in this kind of supreme form with the bat, on display once again against the West Indies in Taunton, where he not only dominated the bowling but also saw the job through till the end in a game that carried the distinct feel of a knockout fixture. Set 322 to win, Bangladesh romped home on the back of an unbroken 189-run partnership for the fourth wicket between Shakib, who hit his second consecutive century of the World Cup to race to the top of the run-scorers' chart, and Liton Das, who in his first WC2019 outing caught the eye with a sparkling 94 not out, off just 69 balls.
There was something swashbuckling, almost cavalier in the way Shakib played his shots throughout the innings, after signaling his positive intent very early on. To just the third delivery he faced, he came charging down the wicket to wallop Shannon Gabriel straight back past him before he could even finish his follow-through. There is almost nothing more demoralising for a fast bowler. There were many moments when you felt the West Indians were sniffing at a chance to get him out, times you felt he wouldn't go on to finish the job, but with that bit of luck that always attaches itself to the winning side, he did indeed see it through till the end. That also helped spike his batting average for the tournament to a ridiculous 128. So he heads both the aggregate and average runs tables. Consider the context of a senior player putting his hand up to fill a problematic slot in the batting order, the all-important number 3 at that, where he has never actually batted before.
But as long as you love batting, you will fancy a chance to bat at #3, and when the results come off the way they have for Shakib in the World Cup so far, it's nothing short of spectacular. He has something to prove, sure. But by now they are no more to the baying, madcap public: so enamoured one day, so vicious the next. Mostly, it is to himself. Just that his stage is such, that the entire world is watching.
Halfway through the World Cup, and on the strength of what the teams have shown in their first 5 games, Bangladesh have the hottest player in the tournament right now. And as they see more and more of him, slowly a realisation is dawning across the cricketing world: mostly flying under the radar, this man from Magura has crafted one of cricket’s greatest careers. Yes, they are preparing to hail him now as one of the greatest of all time. Although back home, the typically non-committal folk are still too afraid to put their signature to him being the greatest cricketer this land has produced. Probably too afraid to ruffle sentiments.
Mark Nicholas, the ex-Hampshire captain and suave, latter-day commentator, after a bout meditating on Shakib’s achievements (it was the 94 fewer matches than the great Jacques Kallis to achieve the 6000 runs-250 wickets milestone that really floored him), put the question point-blank in Atahar Ali Khan’s plate during commentary on Monday: “Shakib must be the greatest Bangladesh have produced?” To which the man who usually sounds like the words just tumble from his mouth, as the lips attempt a fatal juggling act, offered absolute, deathly silence; not even acknowledging his fellow commentator's eager query.
But the world won’t hang back for us to grow a spine or find our voice. And after this World Cup, the cricketing world will be left in no doubt as to Shakib Al Hasan’s place in the Pantheon of the game's greats. Here's to hoping we in Bangladesh will not lag far behind.