With the pitch at Southampton being a slow one, on which Afghanistan’s spin trio of Rashid Khan, Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Mohammad Nabi had bullied the famed Indian batting lineup on Saturday, there was fear of how Bangladesh would fare against the same trio on the same wicket.
It was not the hard-to-pick, fast googlies of Rashid, nor the carrom balls of Mujeeb that won the day. It was the guile, loop and arm balls of Shakib Al Hasan that was the main difference at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton yesterday. Those are all old-fashioned tools and so do not garner much attention.
Yesterday, on a wicket that resembled Shakib’s beloved Mirpur more than it did any English surface, Shakib truly came into his own.
When given a wicket where the ball will grip and his subtle changes of pace, allied with the unerring accuracy he employed, Shakib has the ability to make even the best batsman struggle. That is not to say that Shakib has been markedly less effective in other matches as he has performed the dual role of wicket-taker and run-stopper, much as he does with bat and ball.
Whereas he used the same tools to stifle the runs in the matches other than the one against Australia, yesterday Shakib knew that the batsmen cannot just play him like a slow-medium bowler. With the pitch taking turn, his arm-balls become lethal, as Mohammad Nabi found out in the 29th over when one snaked through bat and pad and rattled the stumps.
His subtle changes of pace came into effect too. On a slow wicket, in his first over, he used the newish ball to surprise Rahmat Shah with a faster one that landed just short enough to tease the pull shot and skidded through, the resultant top edge carrying only to mid on.
If the quicker one got Rahmat, a flighted one got Gulbadin Naib, who played early and offered a sharp catch to short cover.
As if to prove that his arm-ball could fool left-handers too, Shakib deceived an advancing Najibullah Zadran with one to claim his second five-for. In a World Cup where he is the highest scorer as well as becoming the only one to take 10 wickets and score more than 400 runs in the tournament’s history, the question of whether it was his best performance has become a common one.
“I don’t rank my performances, but it is very satisfying when I’m contributing with both ball and bat. It gives me more satisfaction rather than contributing in one sector,” Shakib said.
He probably does not need to rank performances, because he perhaps knows that the level he operates at on most days, it is only natural that days like yesterday will happen.