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     Volume 8 Issue 81 | August 8, 2009 |

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Cover Story

All smiles for the winning team after the West Indies tour.

The Man of the Match

Nader Rahman

Shakib al Hasan's rise to fame has been interesting too see and brilliant to experience,

His rite of passage from boy to man on the field at Arnos Vale ground in St. Vincent.

because his performances have both pushed him into the limelight as well as invigorated the nation. The recent test and one day international (ODI) series victory in the West Indies brought some much needed relief to the cricket crazy nation of Bangladesh, but it also catapulted Shakib into the public eye like never before. While he has undoubtedly been the team's best player for some time and even managed to be named the number one allrounder in the world he never really came across as a cricketing superstar.

His unassuming demeanour off the field, coupled with his coolness on it, made him a likeable and popular player, yet he seemingly lacked a certain X-factor that is often needed to propel a powerful public image. In the days of reality TV and B-grade stars it is easy to achieve one's 15 minutes of fame, but Shakib kept his head down and did his work, he never sought out the limelight yet eventually when he was pushed into it, he succeeded beyond his wildest expectations. One is often told to strike while the iron is hot and that is exactly what Shakib did, he led a continually under performing team to a series victory in the Caribbean and did it all on a few minutes notice as a stand-in captain. Seemingly the captaincy was the X-factor that he was missing, since taking over he has transformed from the quiet kid that keeps on performing to the captain that leads by example. His name and face have covered hundreds of column inches in the last few weeks as Shakib the man steps in and Shakib the boy departs. His rite of passage from boy to man took place on the field at the picturesque Arnos Vale ground in St Vincent as the impromptu leader shrugged off the loss of the team's captain and best bowler to help them achieve only their second test victory.

The stand-in captain Shakib congratulates the team's efficient bowler Abdur Razzak

While Shakib's rise to success has been meteoric, the fact remains that he only started playing cricket when he was in his teens. A talented footballer in his youth, many including him thought that a career in football was eminent. Luckily for us one day he picked up a cricket bat and that changed his life. Playing 'tape tennis' cricket he earned a name and a reputation for himself, so much so that was even hired to play for local teams on match-by-match basis. At that point in time he still fancied himself as a pace bowler, but as people started to notice his talent he decided to change from pace to spin. It proved to be the best decision of his life as he had a natural ability to drift the ball into right-handed batsmen and then make it straighten.

His next major step was to be chosen for a six-month course at the Bangladesh Krira Shikha Prothistan (BKSP).

It proved to be a trying time for him being away from his family, but the upside was that he managed to make his way into the national under-15 team. It was when he was selected for the under-17 team that people really started to notice him. Former Chief Selector of the Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB)

Chilling out during the West Indies tour.

Faruque Ahmed says, "I first spotted Shakib in the under-17 team. We brought him in on the back of some good performances and from the outset he looked like a player we cound depend on." Faruque continues, "his move from the under-17s to the under-19s was seamless as his game improved and matured."

The mature Shakib that we all now see is a far cry from how he played at the beginning of his career. Known as a bit of a dasher he had a full repertoire of strokes and often scored at faster than a run a ball. His sublime performance in a tri series under-19 tournament final in Dhaka where he took three wickets and scored a century announced that he had finally arrived. Soon his batting style matured along with him, the dasher became an accumulator and his flashy strokes were replaced with deft touches and firm drives. His changed approach to the game along with some fine performances made him impossible to leave out of the national team. "It was an easy decision to pick him for the national team and in a way I was very proud to do so as I had selected him in the under-17s onwards. He was a player that deserved his chance and we knew that we had stumbled upon a rare talent," says Ahmed.

Selected mainly as a bowler he scored an unbeaten 30 to guide Bangladesh to victory in his very first game.

While his ODI career was blossoming, his test career got off to an uncertain start. His first six tests only produced a smattering of wickets and the bowling all rounder was soon being called a batting all rounder. His ODI performances were unparalleled as he scored his first century against Canada and followed that up with one against Pakistan, while the runs were coming so were the wickets. In the shorter form of the game his bowling was tight without being brilliant, but often the pressure created by him and Abdur Razzak resulted in others getting wickets. With over 70 wickets from 64 games his strike rate is not too bad, but his economy rate of 4.01 is nothing short of amazing.

Shakib delivered when it mattered most.

The only problem was that while his ODI game was improving his test career seemed to be going nowhere. His bowling lack incisiveness and his batting tended to be less assured than when playing the shorter form of the game. Then seemingly all of a sudden, the wickets and runs came in a torrent, instead of pushing the ball faster as he did in the ODIs he gave it more air and more time to spin. The results were remarkable, in three consecutive tests he took five wickets in an innings including an amazing 7/36 against New Zealand, which remains the best bowling figures by a Bangladeshi player to date. His test batting also improved with a couple of fifties and he was agonisingly out for 96 against New Zealand in an innings that should have marked his first test century. Shakib soon became the team's linchpin, his bowling was getting better as his batting came into form as well and then came the moment no one expected. One sleepy week at the beginning of the year the ICC player rankings came out and Bangladesh's own Shakib al Hasan was sitting in number one position.

Finally he was getting the recognition that he so richly deserved and for the first time the most consistent performer of the team, stepped out of the shadows. While he still remained quiet and reserved, the ICC recognition turned him into a name and a face that the entire nation could associate with, but he was still short of being considered a super star and that is where the recent series against the West Indies comes into the equation.

Most people predicted that the series in the West Indies would be like any other, Bangladesh would play inconsistently, challenge the opposition at times but would eventually lose. But the contract crisis in the West Indies turned into a bookmakers nightmare and Bangladesh's dream as the West Indies Cricket Board was forced to select a C-grade team to play against Bangladesh as the main team refused to take part in the series. Against a severely depleted team of journeymen and youngsters Bangladesh started out as the favourites, but a loss to this team would force people to ridicule our continued test status. The first test was close, but going into the final day the new captain Mashrafee found himself injured and it was up to the rookie Shakib to lead the team in his absence. With the maturity of a seasoned professional he shook the team up with his penetrating bowling and quiet efficiency as Bangladesh managed to bowl out the West Indies in less than 80 overs to win only their second test match.

With Mashrafee injured he took over the reigns for the second test and together with his gritty batting and probing bowling managed to help Bangladesh to their second consecutive win and first away series win ever. His outstanding counterattacking innings of 96 not out off 97 balls iced the cake on what was now being called Shakib's series. He picked up both the man of the match and the player of the series award as he was catapulted to superstar status. The ODI series continued in the same vein as he helped pull off another series victory and was now being talk of as the new captain and saviour of Bangladeshi cricket. While that talk may have come a little too soon, it is easy to see why people across the country are calling for him to take charge of the Tigers permanently. His cool head and calm demeanour, makes him a good choice as captain but he also possesses that ability to bring the team together simply under the weight of his own performances. While he is shying away from the topic, the truth is that he took his opportunity with two hands and now looks like the real deal.

Shakib soon became the team's linchpin.
Shakib executes his favourite pull shot.

Khulna has long been known as the land of the Sunderbans and shrimp, now it is known as Shakib's birthplace. His move from 'Magura to Number One' as Utpal Shuvro wrote in his profile of the player is as remarkable as his performances and has made the country proud. His string of great performances and the ability to keep his cool when everyone else loses theirs will stand him in good stead, because Bangladeshi cricket can frustrate like no other. He is the man of the moment and most importantly one for the future.


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