Planet Cricket

Tim Wig­more dis­cov­ers from Bangladesh’s star all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan about his na­tion’s change in for­tunes

The Cricket Paper - - NEWS -

Tim Wig­more chats with Bangladesh’s Shakib al Hasan

In 2006, Tony Blair was still Prime Min­is­ter, Ge­orge W. Bush was still Pres­i­dent and the iPhone had yet to be launched. It was also the last time that Bangladesh played a Test match against Aus­tralia.

The two-Test se­ries be­tween the coun­tries, which be­gins on Sun­day, is brim­ming with sig­nif­i­cance. It is a se­ries that many in Bangladesh had feared would never come.

First, be­cause Aus­tralia have long been so ret­i­cent about play­ing the Tigers in Test cricket. Se­cond, be­cause of the se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion in the coun­try, which led to Aus­tralia post­pon­ing their tour, orig­i­nally sched­uled for 2015. And, finally, be­cause of the dis­pute be­tween Aus­tralia’s play­ers and board over their new con­tract.

It was never likely that the Ashes would be can­celled, which would have been dis­as­trous for play­ers and the board alike.Yet it was very con­ceiv­able that the wran­gling could have ex­tended for another cou­ple of months, scup­per­ing the matches in Bangladesh.

When Aus­tralia last played a Test in Bangladesh, night­watch­man Ja­son Gille­spie scored the most un­likely Test dou­ble cen­tury in his­tory, which rather sum­mer up the state of Bangladeshi cricket at the time.

It is true that Bangladesh had al­most top­pled Aus­tralia in the first Test, prob­a­bly com­ing only one dropped catch off Ricky Ponting short of re­al­is­ing this dream, yet their in­nings de­feat in the se­cond was per­haps a bet­ter em­blem of the state of Bangladesh at the time.

They were only 18 months out of a run of 71 de­feats (and a to­ken draw, against Zim­babwe) from 72 in­ter­na­tion­als.

All that is his­tory. Bangladesh to­day are not just a fine Test cricket team in Asian con­di­tions – as Eng­land learned in their Test de­feat last year, and Sri Lanka did the same dur­ing a home de­feat ear­lier this year – but an em­bold­ened one.

That spirit is em­bod­ied by Shakib Al Hasan, who stands out as Bangladesh’s finest ever crick­eter, and a sem­i­nal fig­ure in the world game. Con­sider this: he is ranked No.1 all-rounder in the world in all three for­mats. In all six dis­ci­plines – bat­ting and bowl­ing in Tests, ODIs and T20Is – his av­er­age is bet­ter than Ben Stokes’, which rather em­bod­ies the parochial­ism of those who pro­claim Stokes the world’s finest all-rounder.

“We knew that we have this abil­ity, and we needed that be­lief, and we can only get this be­lief by win­ning matches,” Shakib said of Bangladesh’s jour­ney.

“But there is no short­age of self­be­lief at this mo­ment. Now we feel that we are very much un­beat­able at home – doesn’t mat­ter who we are play­ing against. So this is the be­lief that makes a team a very good team, and a win­ning team.”

“It’s been in­cred­i­ble. I don’t think many peo­ple thought – even in Bangladesh – that we can come this far.”

In Tests, the cru­cial change came ahead of the se­ries with Eng­land last year. “Pre­vi­ously the mind­set was to draw against big teams – try to play five days, make a draw – but we never used to get the re­sult,” Shakib said. “Then we started think­ing ‘let’s try to win – let’s try to play to win the game’. It’s the mind­set that changed, and that made us be­lieve that we can win.”

Through it all the sup­port of Bangladesh’s fans has been un­yield­ing and re­lent­less: an ex­tra­or­di­nary bur­den for a fledg­ling team to cope with. Shakib said: “There is a pres­sure, but we take it as a chal­lenge, and we think that be­cause they’re ex­pect­ing, so they have the be­lief that we can per­form. So that’s the pos­i­tive thing we take from them – that be­cause they’re ex­pect­ing us to win – yes, if you think like that, it’s pres­sure, but we think be­cause they think we can win, they have that be­lief, so why can’t we be­lieve that we can win the match?”

His great frus­tra­tion is that such chances are not more fre­quent. Ten years af­ter his Test de­but, only now will Shakib reach 50 Tests. “It is frus­trat­ing. I have been play­ing for ten years in Test cricket, and I have played only 49 Tests,” he said, not­ing how Alas­tair Cook, for in­stance, has played al­most three times as many. “So we can see the dif­fer­ence. But that’s how it is. We can’t do any­thing. Hope­fully we’ll get to play more Test matches, and im­prove our­selves as a Test-play­ing na­tion.

“The last few years have been great for our cricket. We can’t con­trol other things. What we can do is keep im­prov­ing our­selves, and we are. I think we are on the right track.” There is every rea­son to think he is right.

“I have a big re­spon­si­bil­ity, and I’m very much aware of that,” he added. “If some­one gets in­spired look­ing at me, I’ll be very happy.”

Shakib has al­ready in­spired a na­tion – and he might be about to do so all over again.

PIC­TURES: Getty Im­ages

In the pic­ture: Aus­tralian cap­tain Steve Smith is stopped for a selfie when the tourists ar­rive in Bangladesh. Inset: The Aussies cel­e­brate win­ning the Test se­ries in 2006

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