'Can Shakib succeed where Mashrafe and Mushfiqur failed?' will be the question when Bangladesh and South Africa take the field for the first T20I at Bloemfontein's Mangaung Oval today. This match will be a new beginning for Bangladesh cricket as Shakib Al Hasan's first match as T20I captain will officially mark the start of the three-captain era for Bangladesh, after Mushfiqur Rahim oversaw the 0-2 Test whitewash and Mashrafe Bin Mortaza was at the helm for the 0-3 ODI clean sweep.
In truth, success will probably not be defined simply by something other than a zero for Bangladesh in the series scoreline, but after injuries to key players like Tamim Iqbal and Mustafizur Rahman and consummate hammerings in each of the five international matches on tour so far, the Tigers giving the Proteas a run for their money will be a positive end to a sordid sojourn. To that end, Bangladesh at least have the right person for the format leading the team.
Not only is Shakib Bangladesh's highest run-scorer and wicket-taker in T20Is but he is also by far the most experienced, having played 237 T20 matches around the world, 59 of which have been for Bangladesh. Moreover, at this troubled juncture for Bangladesh Shakib's distilled thinking about the game and not giving mind space to factors off the field may be just what is needed for the format that squeezes the game into three and a half hours of action.
"I think it is such a short format that we don't have much time to think about things, which is to our advantage -- thinking too much can be a problem," said Shakib when asked whether his experience and the absence of some other seniors adds extra responsibility on him. "In Tests and ODIs there's a lot of time to think, which leads to a lot of complicated thinking. So if everyone can keep things simple, we can leave with a good performance.
"I think those who are playing here are mature enough," he said when asked whether he would try and motivate his players at the end of a gruelling tour. "I hope they can understand their own roles. It is important to motivate the team. I can't fix anyone's skills or mentality. But it can be tried. We have to play as a team in these two matches, which is my goal."
In his first stint as Bangladesh skipper, Shakib had led the team in T20Is in four matches in 2009 and 2010. The difficulty of gaining his first win today was not lost on the world's top all-rounder.
"The format is different. We don't have big hitters so we have to do the small things right. Otherwise it becomes hard for us to win. I wouldn't say that it is impossible to win but we have to do the one per cent stuff. We cannot let anything go. My target is that it should look like a team is playing and that they are trying really hard."
The absence of stalwarts like Tamim and Mustafizur, as well as Mashrafe who quit the format during Bangladesh's last T20I outing in Sri Lanka in April, is certainly a blow. But Shakib saw opportunity.
"There were some injury worries, plus it is so far that one can't expect a T20 squad to come here," said Shakib when asked about the squad that has been reduced now to 14 players. "We are seeing players who played Tests and ODIs on this tour. So quite naturally, there was no option to think as far as selection was concerned. We have 14 available players, so we have to pick our best XI. I think it is a good opportunity to find ourselves in a good place despite being in such a situation. We will be able to show a side of our character."
“It is possible to win a T20 if one or two bowlers or a couple of batsmen do well. Most matches finish in the 19th and 20th overs regardless of who is playing. South Africa is a tough place to play for any sub-continent team. Since we have nothing to lose, this is a good opportunity."