Magnificent Shakib, Majestic Tigers
Three sixes off three successive balls, two of them hooked off bouncers delivered by a genuinely fast bowler. 15 minutes later, the score read 305 for three after 40 overs. Nine balls later, a total of 321 was chased down in just 41.3 overs. The batting team were none of England, India or Australia. In a performance that consummately upended perceptions, Bangladesh beat West Indies by seven wickets playing a style of cricket that has not been associated with the Tigers. The second-highest successful chase in World Cup history brought the Tigers’ campaign roaring back to life at the County Ground in Taunton yesterday in the presence of a delighted, sloganeering crowd of Bangladeshi expatriates.
The style of play may have been a surprise, but the man spearheading the win was not. As Liton Das swivel-pulled the last of a plethora of bouncers to the square leg fence, Shakib Al Hasan crossed over to the striker’s end and, with a fist-pump and a smile, calmly uprooted the stumps much like he had extracted the sting from a stubbornly aggressive West Indies attack over the past three hours. He had to put it back because, as he said later, ‘they do not let you keep the zinc bails’, but there was no going back from the notion that Bangladesh had served further notice of their prowess.
Shakib regained top spot in the 2019 World Cup run charts with his second successive ton -- yesterday’s unbeaten 99-ball 124 following the 121 he struck against England on June 8 -- but more importantly, helped lift Bangladesh to fifth in the 10-team World Cup table. Liton, replacing Mohammad Mithun in the eleven as Bangladesh’s first change of the campaign, marked his World Cup debut by showcasing his destructive elegance to the full. His utter ease against high pace, as illustrated by those three sixes off Shannon Gabriel in the 38th over. The right-hander finished on an unbeaten 94 off 69 balls with eight boundaries and four sixes.
The pair put on an unbroken 189-run fourth-wicket stand in just 22.3 overs after Mushfiqur Rahim was out in the 19th over, nicking down the leg side off Oshane Thomas.
At that point, West Indies may have breathed a sigh of relief because they appeared shell-shocked up to that point as first Soumya Sarkar (29 off 23 balls), then Tamim Iqbal and Shakib kept dispatching their bouncers -- which they would not stop bowling -- with ease. While historically Bangladesh have been uncomfortable against the fast, short ball, they have not looked so in this tournament as they dealt with South Africa, New Zealand and England pacers pretty comfortably. However, they have rarely attacked it with as much authority as they did yesterday.
Tamim was on 16 off 27 when Soumya departed, guiding a bouncer to slip after he had hit the previous one for six over point off Russell, and in Shakib’s company Tamim started attacking more -- cutting and pulling West Indies skipper Jason Holder for four in the 10th over. A forceful back-foot cut through the covers off Gabriel showed that Tamim was regaining some form, but he was unlucky to be dismissed for a 53-ball 48 by a brilliant piece of fielding from Sheldon Cottrell, who fielded a straight drive off his own bowling and threw down the stumps at the striker’s end with a diving Tamim found just short.
But the real show started when most Bangladesh fans would have started despairing -- when Mushfiqur walked back dejectedly with the score on 133 for two. Shakib, who had been unrelenting with his assault on the short balls from West Indies’ all-pace attack, carried on in his vein as West Indies also helped with a predictable line of attack.
“They had two areas -- either full or short,” Shakib said after the match.
When he was not employing the short-arm pulls to the square leg or fine leg fence, he was fetching bouncers from outside off stump to the boundary in front of square on the leg side. He displayed his full complement of cut shots, for which no captain has yet been able to set a field when Shakib is in form, and he has been in this World Cup. When West Indies over-pitched, Shakib pummelled them over the top or along the ground straight back past the bowler. He was lucky when on 55 as a top-edged pull landed safely between Gabriel at fine leg and the backpedalling wicketkeeper Shai Hope.
Liton was an equal partner as, after a watchful initial period, he started to unfurl his wide array of strokes, mixing adventure with the class those who saw his century in the Asia Cup final would be well acquainted with.
Earlier, at the halfway stage, West Indies’ 321 for eight appeared to be a good total, especially after they were 159 for three in the 33rd over. Skipper Mashrafe Bin Mortaza, under fire because of his iffy form in the first three matches, had gotten things off on the right foot for Bangladesh with a maiden to start off against Chris Gayle, who was also tied down by Mohammad Saifuddin at the other end before surrendering his wicket to the young pacer. Mashrafe ended his opening spell wicketless, but only having given 24 runs off seven overs.
After a 116-run second-wicket stand between Hope and Evin Lewis, it was Shakib who broke through by getting Lewis caught at long off for 70, and then dismissed Nicholas Pooran in the 33rd over. However, Shimron Hetmyer took advantage of poor bowling from Mustafizur Rahman, Mehedi Hasan Miraz and Mosaddek Hossain to erect a 83-run partnership in just 7.2 overs with Hope. Mustafizur, however, redeemed himself by claiming the wickets of both Hetmyer for a 26-ball 50 and Andre Russell in the 40th over, after which Bangladesh pulled things back.
It later turned out that they did not need to as it deprived Taunton’s Bangladeshi faithful -- of which there will be more after yesterday -- a chance to see some more overs of fine, attacking batting from the Tigers.