Certain boxes have to be ticked to know that the Bangladesh team are in good fettle. Tamim Iqbal has to be in good form because he sets the tone for the innings, Mushfiqur Rahim and Mahmudullah Riyad should ideally be doing the heavy lifting in the middle and at the end and Mashrafe Bin Mortaza, well, has to be Mashrafe Bin Mortaza. In conjunction with all those factors, perhaps most importantly, the world’s best all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan has to be involved in all aspects of Bangladesh’s surge towards wins.
From the optional training camp in Leicester in May to his player-of-the match performance in the Tigers’ World Cup opener against South Africa on Sunday, Shakib has been switched on. He matched the legendary training ethic of Mushfiqur -- with whom he put on 142 runs for the third wicket during Bangladesh’s 21-run win -- while batting for extended periods in the nets. On Sunday, he scored 75 to set up Bangladesh’s highest total of 330 for six. He then bowled Aiden Markram at a crucial juncture to become the quickest in ODI history to the double of 250 wickets and 5,000 runs and also took a fine, low catch at cover to help dismiss Andile Phehlukwayo.
“I think Shakib’s return is the most important thing,” said team manager Khaled Mahmud yesterday, perhaps alluding to Shakib’s return from finger injuries that dogged the cricketer throughout 2018 and earlier this year. “He has always been a big cricketer, but his seriousness in the last few months has been outstanding. It’s not just fitness; his involvement in the team is amazing, the way he is working hard.
“Let me just relate something he did in practice the day before yesterday. He was taking a breather, and the players needed water and he ran towards them with the water. This is what I am saying – one of the senior players in the team… these small changes really catch the eye.”
It may be unfair to say that Shakib has been aloof before because he has always been part of the core group that guides the younger members of the team, but it may not always be visible to the outside world. During the build-up to the World Cup, however, his involvement and enjoyment of practice has been palpable -- joking with teammates and being a livewire during fielding practice, wanting to get to every ball.
“He does not say it, but I think Shakib wants to become the man of the series in this tournament, that is what I believe seeing the way he has prepared himself in the last six months fitness-wise, attitude-wise… everything. He spends a lot of time on batting. Maybe at one time Shakib used to bat or bowl, or bowl one over and then leave the nets, but now he is very serious. Everyone, including the youngsters, are working very hard.”
Bangladesh bowling coach Courtney Walsh was asked during a press conference on Friday who he thought Bangladesh’s X-factor was. The great Jamaican fast bowler was coy about answering definitively, but former Australia captain Ricky Ponting had earlier talked about Shakib as Bangladesh’s danger man in this World Cup. After a career of 13 years, Shakib may not qualify as an X-factor, but a Shakib even hungrier for success may yet be the surprise package.