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|Volume 11 |Issue 48| December 07, 2012 ||
The Shohag Show
The state of affairs at the Bangladesh Cricket Board before the beginning of the series against the West Indies was a little worrisome, to say the least. A disappointing performance at the ICC T20 World Cup, followed by a rift with the team's head coach and administrational problems, which delayed the beginning of the domestic league, were just some of the obstacles that the Tigers and the board were trying to get past.
In the midst of the chaotic situation, the team management had to prepare the players to face the likes of Chris Gayle, Sunil Narine and a bunch of others who looked menacing at the T20 World Cup, a tournament they ended up winning. The pre-series press conferences were dominated by questions regarding the management's plans to handle the powerful blades of Gayle and Marlon Samuels. “What's the strategy for Gayle? Are the Bangladeshi bowlers capable of handling the onslaught?” These were the questions that were asked to almost every member of the team management, right from the Chief Selector, Akram Khan to the team's coach, Shane Jurgensen.
Little did the press or perhaps even the management know that an off-spinner by the name of Shohag Gazi would almost single-handedly run through the West Indian batting order; and that's almost what happened in the Test series. Of the 14 wickets that Bangladesh took in the first Test match in Dhaka, nine of them were taken by Gazi. His 6 for 74 in the third innings of the match surpassed pacer Manjural Islam's 6 for 81, as it became a record for the best bowling figures by a Bangladeshi debutant.
All this after he was smacked by Chris Gayle for 18 runs in his first international over, including a maximum over mid off in his very first delivery. Captain Mushfiqur Rahim though, persisted with the off-spinner and eventually the debutant got the big man caught at the boundary. Gazi's 'cinematic' entry into international cricket was followed by some well-flighted deliveries which in due course, presented the hosts with a rare opportunity of winning a Test match. The pressure of chasing down a target on the last day of the Test match may have got the better of the Bangladeshi players, but there was no doubt that in Gazi, the selectors had found a talented bowler, who if groomed properly can turn out to be a revelation.
Apart from his bowling, it was his attitude that impressed many as well. He bowled close to 50 overs in the first innings of the Test match, almost touching former slow left arm bowler Mohammad Rafique's feat, who had bowled 51 overs on debut against India in 2001.
“I am obviously very happy that I performed well. There were a lot of expectations on me and I didn't want to break them. But honestly speaking, I would have been happier had we won the game. After all, at the end of the day it's the result that matters,” said the 21-year-old at the end of the first game.
It was the youngster's thirst for getting wickets that got him the crucial one off Gayle, once again, in the second Test, this time on a flat deck at the Sheikh Abu Naser Stadium in Khulna. Yet again, Mushfiq made him bowl 'marathon-esque' spells and he merely obliged.
The 'Shohag Show' continued in Khulna with the beginning of the One Day International series as his 4 for 29– best ever bowling figures for a Bangladeshi on debut– choked the visitors, majority of who faltered as they tried to hit their way out of discomfort against him. His consistent line and length, in a sense, helped cover the gap created in the bowling department due to Shakib Al Hasan's injury.
Early glances of the bowler displayed the make-up of a traditional off-spinner, who depends more on the flight of the ball and confuses the batsmen every now and then with a straighter delivery. In fact, so far, it has been Gazi's 'arm-ball', that the West Indies batsmen have found hard to negotiate. “My arm-ball is definitely one of my strengths. It's an aspect that I have been working on in the nets. I am still in a learning phase,” claimed Gazi after the Test series.
While it may be too early to state Gazi's future in the team, after all the ongoing series is only his first, he has however, filled a void in the team that the selectors had been looking to cover for a long time. This was the first time since 2001 that a specialist off-spinner was selected in the side, the last being Fahim Muntasir. However, Gazi's elevation to the top didn't come easy.
With a side traditionally packed with slow-left arm bowlers and off-spinning all rounders, it was obvious that the 21-year-old would have to do something special to get into the team. And that's exactly what he did this year. A string of good performances with ball for the Bangladesh A team and his hard work in domestic cricket caught the selectors' attention.
In the two matches that he played in the National Cricket League this year, he took a hat-trick and a seven-for in an innings and also scored a blistering century in the same game. It was a match against Khulna which saw the likes Abdur Razzak and co getting hit out of the park.
There's no doubt that his burst into the international scene has created ripples in Bangladesh's domestic scene. Many have already termed him a 'right-handed Shakib' and his performance in the games provide a lot of hope. However, this is just the beginning. It's quite obvious that the bowler has talent, but one only hopes that Gazi's skills are groomed properly by the board and that he doesn't fade away like the many other talented cricketers of this country.
The current signs though are positive. The player's hunger to perform is vividly seen in the game. It is perhaps Gazi himself who best describes the current platform that he is on, “ I have worked very hard to get into the national team. There's a lot of competition and my aim will always be to try and hold a position in the squad,” says Gazi.
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