Shakib : Undoubtedly Bangladesh's finest-ever cricketer

Can there be any doubt that Shakib al Hasan is the finest player in Bangladesh cricket history? On facts and figures, on performances, on the ability to rise to the occasion when the chips are down and on sheer force of personality and his effect on the game’s followers in the cricket crazy country, the left handed all rounder is the one truly world class player Bangladesh has produced in its 14-year Test history.

Like most prima donnas he has had his moods and his run-ins with those in authority. In certain cases he has not been entirely blameless and has been deserving of the punishment handed out to him. But Shakib is one of a rare breed and not just as a player. He has owned up his mistakes and has taken steps to rectify them. And this has kept his status as the No 1 pin-up boy of Bangladesh cricket alive. Despite his misdemeanors, cricket fans are fiercely loyal to him fully aware that he is the one cricketer in the national team who can be depended upon to come up with a stellar performance whatever the odds and however formidable the opposition.

Realizing his worth, the Bangladesh Cricket Board recently ended the restriction on the no objection certificates issued to Shakib leaving him free to participate in overseas tournaments. Given his stature he is one of the most eagerly sought after cricketers when it comes to the IPL or Big Bash or other such T-20 competitions and the BCB’s decision meant that Shakib could play in Australia. According to BCB chief Nazmul Hassan it was a unanimous decision taken on behalf of the BCB’s board of directors.

In July Shakib was banned for six months and told he would not be granted the NOC’s to play in overseas competitions until December 31 2015. It was clarified that he was being punished for ``serious misbehavior’’ with the Bangladesh coach Chandika Hathurusingha and an altercation with a spectator during an ODI against India in Mirpur. In August the BCB reduced his ban by 3-1/2 months letting him play for Bangladesh from September 15. And finally in December the ban was lifted allowing Shakib to play in the Big Bash in Australia. According to Hassan, Shakib’s improved behaviour had been noticed by the BCB. "We are not against our players," said Hassan. " However there are times when situations demand strict measures. The ban and the NOC embargo on Shakib was a message to everyone that we will not compromise on matters relating to discipline." However he was quick to add that he was happy that the player had taken the sanctions in the right spirit and showed his character by coming back strongly. "I believe the outcome in the context of the Bangladesh team has been positive and we have seen greater teamwork and camaraderie during the series against Zimbabwe," he said.

It was against Zimbabwe in November – December that Shakib put in a superlative performance judged even by his own high standards. Bangladesh actually won 8-0 making a clean sweep of both the threematch Test series and the five-match ODI series and Shakib reiterated why he was the heart and soul of Bangladesh cricket. At Khulna he became only the third cricketer after Ian Botham and Imran Khan to take ten wickets and score a century in the same Test. And in the first ODI at Chittagong he got a hundred to go along with his fourwicket haul only the 12th cricketer to do so. When a player emulates a feat achieved only twice before in the history of Test cricket and by all rounders of the calibre of Imran and Botham it only underlines the talent, class and multi faceted skills of Shakib. While in the ODI’s Shakib scored 142 runs and took eleven wickets his Test record was even more impressive – 251 runs and 18 wickets.

Thanks mainly to Shakib, the 8-0 winning streak represented a general sense of relief and a restoration of a cricket-mad public’s trust in the team. The critics might say it was just Zimbabwe but it should be noted that the visitors arrived as the higher ranked Test side. The result saw Bangladesh leapfrog over Zimbabwe. Moreover Shakib has performed admirably against all opposition as his record – over 2000 runs and 100 wickets from 37 Tests and almost 4000 runs and nearly 200 wickets from 141 ODIs - will testify.

Like all big names Shakib has had his critics. When he was first banned there was a lot of discussion about how he had become too big for his boots. His hot headedness attracted considerable adverse attention and his obscene gesture on TV a few months ago did not go down with the general cricket loving public. There were those who said he would not improve his behavior and consequently his game would go downhill.

Shakib however has hit back at the critics with his performance against Zimbabwe. More importantly even his harshest critics would have noticed a quieter, more smiling Shakib over the last few months. During the series against Zimbabwe he spoke about how his calmer avatar was paying rich dividends. He also talked of regret which was noticeable for someone tagged as domineering. "Throughout the series I have felt calmer" he said in an interview. "I was more relaxed. It is difficult to say specifically what is different but I can feel it. Being mature is important. I think it is working for me and I have to continue with this attitude. I don’t think I will make any of the old mistakes. When I think of my career that has gone by there is a bit of regret. For example I didn’t bat as well back then as I am doing these days." As the saying goes "admitting your mistake is the first step towards rectifying it" and it is an encouraging sign both for him and for Bangladesh cricket that Shakib has adopted this attitude. When one considers that Shakib plays for arguably the weakest international side his impressive figures become even more impressive. This is borne out of self- belief and an admirable temperament for he is unflustered by the big occasion or the strong opposition. This trait stood by him during his tenure as Bangladesh captain when the team won 22 out of 47 ODIs and even registered a shock victory over England in the 2011 World Cup. However the World Cup campaign was followed by a disappointing tour of Zimbabwe where Bangladesh lost the one-off Test and the ODI series leading to his ouster as captain. This has not dampened Shakib’s spirit one bit. On the contrary away from the cares of captaincy his game has become better. He is a genuine all rounder in that he can contribute substantially both with bat and ball. And since he is only 27 one can safely stick one’s neck out and predict that his best is yet to come.

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