Shakib: The Tendulkar + Murali of Bangladesh

Sri Lanka may have begun playing cricket at competitive level long ago, but it was in 1982 that theyachieved their dreams as a cricketing nation. It was against England that they played their first ever Test match after attaining the Test match status and that pushed them into the pedestal of being the eighth Test playing nation in the world.

After that 1982 game which Sri Lanka went on to lose, it took the Lankan side another 13 years to be taken seriously and it was not before the finger-wagging Shakoor Rana incident of 1999 from which Arjuna Ranatunga had etched his name as the leader of men.

No, this story is not about Sri Lanka or Sri Lankan cricket, but about how Shakib-al-Hasan from Bangladesh seems to have taken the same path as Ranatunga once had in search of glory for his country.

Ever since playing their first ever ODI in the 1980s and the first Test match in 2000, Bangladesh have been the battering rams of international cricket. Game after game, and almost every series was lost to the opposition. Till recently, the tours of Bangladesh were a necessary evil as a part of the ICC's FTP and most importantly, games that could only be lost to complacency or the deadrubber syndrome. Also, at times nation’s hopes hinged on which side of the bed did the purported Sachin Tendulkar of the team, Mohammad Ashraful get out from before an innings - and on most occasions it had probably been a fall in his sleep. Statistics often hide more than they say but in case of Bangladesh, they provided a perfect picture and a rather gloomy one. Out of 153 oneday internationals that the Bangladeshis had played against the Test playing nations apart from Zimbabwe, till before the series against New Zealand, Bangladesh had only won 12. Three of these wins had come against a West Indian side which was a third-string side, making it a record not worth praising . In Tests, it is worse; three wins in 68 games and two of them against that same club-side from the Caribbean and another against Zimbabwe.

For long, Bangladesh has needed a messiah, a showman and a figure that the fans could look up to in hope and anticipation. A batsman, who could bring the crowds to the stadiums or even closer to the television and conversely get them away from the game when he failed.

Shakib is probably the solution to all their answers. He is the potential one-man army in a team sport and is much like Tendulkar of the 1990s. He is probably a beacon of hope for the win-starved nation, or even for that matter, a sporting icon for the heroshorn country.

Not many would have expected Shakib to lead the Bangladesh side at such an early stage of his career and bandying about suggestions for a clean sweep against a side like New Zealand. In much like similar fashion Australia’s tour just few months before the start of the 1996 World Cup had set the Sri Lankans up for the tournament win. One cannot help but feel that Bangladesh are close to making a breakthrough in the cricketing world in the next edition of the World Cup. Much of it has to do with Shakib's performance in the series against New Zealand and some of the others in 2010.

But I am probably going too far ahead in time. Shakib's ascent to the top began as a 15-year when he cemented his place in the Under-19 team. With the batting and bowling form going his way, it was in his fifth ODI as a 19- year old that he smacked his first ever half-century. This was followed by a duck and the doomsday conspirators had begun to link him to be another flash in the talented pan of Bangladeshi cricket.

Fortunately, a string of 20s and 30s followed before he smacked his first century against Canada and played a matchwinning innings of a 50 against India in that fateful game of the 2007 World Cup. This won him a place in the Test squad for Bangladesh and after some starts in the first few games, it was another series against New Zealand that seemed to have changed things around for him. I

t was the Chittagong Test match of the series in which Bangladesh managed to come close of winning their first big five-day game. New Zealand sneaked through to a three-wicket win but it was not before a half century and a seven-wicket haul by Shakib had almost stunned the Kiwis. While
Bangladesh have failed to repeat their performance of this game again in a five-day match of repute, Shakib has been entrusted with much responsibility of the bowling. He has picked up 42 opposition wickets in the next seven Tests and manfully shouldered the burden in a Muralitharan-like fashion.

The results have shown in every sense of the word. The batting and bowling averages figures have gone in opposite directions, runs in both forms of the game have become more frequent while the wickets have come in bucketfuls. Again, statistics without context means nothing but in his case, the number one ranking in the ICC ODI all-rounders' ranking and number three in the Tests speaks volumes
of how well Shakib has gone about his business.

Add that to the fact that Shakib had captained the side all through the time when regular captain Mashrafe Mortaza was injured meaning that the last 12 months have been especially tough. Shakib-al-Hasan is a 23- year old lad, who is not only his side's best player by a distance but also in charge of leading the side against much stronger opposition.

In that case, under normal circumstances, Shakib's recent remark that 'we can beat New Zealand 4-0' would have either been dismissed for being too cocky, had it come from an Aussie or downright stupid. It turned out that Shakib had backed his words with some action on the field as well. Shakib scored 213 runs in the series at an average of 71 and followed it up with 11 wickets. Just to give a perspective to the figures, the next best batsman had not even got to 150, while the second-placed bowler had eight wickets to his name.

It is a no-brainer that Bangladesh has probably their first ever truly champion cricketer who can turn games around on his own. It must also be said that he needs to come up with something new to reinvent himself, but till then, one also gets the sense that he is really turning on for the Bangladeshi cricket. Winning the 2011 World Cup may be a tad farfetched but I shall not be surprised if Shakib leads the side into a quarterfinals spot.

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