Shakib Al Hasan has been the one name in Bangladesh cricket that has always remained the centre of discussion when it comes to planning for upcoming series. In the lead-up to the Asia Cup to take place in the UAE from September 15, all discussion centred on whether the Tigers' Test and T20I captain would participate as there was talk of him undergoing a surgery for a persistent finger injury. To the relief of millions of Bangladesh fans, the world's number one ODI all-rounder was named in the squad. The champion all-rounder, who is currently in USA after performing Hajj in Saudi Arabia, will join the Tigers directly in Dubai for the Asia Cup. He spoke about his fitness, the Tigers' recent tour of West Indies, Bangladesh's chances in the Asia Cup and other topics during a telephone interview with The Daily Star's Mazhar Uddin yesterday. The following are excerpts from the conversation:
The Daily Star (TDS): How fit are you for the Asia Cup?
Shakib Al Hasan (SAH): I would say I am 20-30 percent fit right now. I still have pain in my hand, so honestly I don't know how I would bat or bowl. I am out of practice for some time so I have no idea.
TDS: As a top cricketer ahead of a demanding series, what effect does carrying an injury have on you?
SAH: I don't know. Normally top players don't play if they have an injury. Let's see when I go there -- if things don't look good I might go straight for surgery from there (laughs).
TDS: As Test captain, you presided over a humiliating series defeat to open the West Indies tour but came back in the end to lead the side to a series win in the T20Is. How challenging was the comeback?
SAH: Everyday is a new challenge whenever you play but there is nothing to prove separately. You have to give your best to help the team and that's what I tried in all three formats, regardless of whether I am captain. I always believed that we will be able to make a comeback after the first Test. We created opportunities in the second Test but were unable to capitalise. Overall, we did not bat well where our highest score in four innings was probably 160 odd runs. You can't win a Test scoring so low and if we were able to score 600 combined in two innings then there would have been a chance to compete. We were no way near that as we were 300 runs short in both Tests, maybe more.
TDS: Why are Bangladesh yet to become a consistent Test side, especially abroad? How can the situation be improved?
SAH: Look, which team is playing well abroad at the moment? If you look at international cricket nowadays I think we should not make it a huge concern. Yes, we should plan how to get better as a team but it is not the end of the world. India have lost the series against England 3-1, South Africa lost all matches in Sri Lanka. So I don't see any team doing well abroad. Many big teams have lost against us at home.
TDS: What are your thoughts on the Bangladesh fast bowling department in Tests?
SAH: Not just in Test cricket; if you want to play well abroad you have to do well in fast bowling department. We have a huge lacking in this department and we need to improve along with batting, which is also another weak point. Despite our spin department doing well with [Mehedi Hasan] Miraz, myself and Taijul [Islam] we failed in both the batting and fast bowling departments big time. So we need a massive improvement in these two departments and it has been a concern for us whenever we go abroad. Teams like India have created such bowling attacks that their fast bowlers are taking 10 wickets in England and it's not like they are conceding 500-600; they are bundling out opponents for 250 -300. So I think we should also invent some formula from where we will get improvements.
TDS: As a batsman did you always want to bat at number three in limited-overs? If so, do you think that it can have a long-term impact as you also need to bowl 10 overs.
SAH: I think I am comfortable batting at number three and it's a new challenge for me. When there is no challenge I don't get that interest, to be honest. So as it's a big challenge for me I personally want to stick to it. But it's up to the team. Wherever they want me to play, I will try to contribute accordingly. In terms of my bowling I don't see any issues about batting at number three as wicketkeepers keep wicket for 50 overs and open the innings. In Tests, I normally bowl 30-35 overs, and have to bat inside the first 10 overs.
TDS: Your supposed lack of desire to play Test cricket had been the talk of town during the tour of West Indies. Do you want to clear the air?
SAH: When I feel that I need to clear anything I will, but someone can give their personal opinion. Being a professional player and representing the national team, I will try to contribute as long as I can. When I will feel that I have nothing more to give I will say so on my own. But until then I am not worried about what people are saying.
TDS: Do you think the inclusion of Nazmul Islam Apu has added some strength in the spin department in limited-overs cricket?
SAH: Our spin department has always been good with Miraz, Taijul and Apu bhai has really been doing well, which is beyond expectation. Alhamdulillah, I hope he continues in that way for us. I think he has huge potential and courage as he does not have that much variation, such as the doosra or teesra, but it's his courage and brain which keeps him ahead of many bowlers.
TDS: Bangladesh's chances in the Asia Cup?
SAH: Well, we should do well. I believe we are a good ODI side but we have to be fit and confident, which I think most of the players are at the moment. Let's see what happens.
TDS: Do you prefer to be called Hajji Shakib now?
SAH: (Laughs) It doesn't sound bad; if calling me Hajji can help anyone, then why not? People started calling me Hajji Shakib and I like it.