‘We need someone with foresight’
Shakib Al Hasan put in phenomenal individual performances in the 2019 ICC World Cup but ended the tournament disappointed as the team failed to match his standards. The world’s foremost allrounder then took a break only to see Bangladesh suffer heavily in Sri Lanka. The Tigers’ performance did not much improve when he returned for the one-off Test against Afghanistan, which they lost, and the ensuing T20I tri-series against Afghanistan and Zimbabwe. While there were glimpses of hope in the performances of the A team and the Under-19 side, the senior team’s poor run exposed the cracks in Bangladesh cricket and the lack of long-term planning. Since the forlorn World Cup campaign, Shakib has been the only one in the top echelons of Bangladesh cricket speaking frankly about the problems. The premier all-rounder sat down with The Daily Star’s Bishwajit Roy and Mazhar Uddin yesterday morning in the lobby of his tranquil residence and spoke regarding many of the issues prevalent in Bangladesh cricket. Known to take action to improve his cricket -- like he did ahead of the World Cup by working exhaustively on his fitness -- Shakib believed that only through well-thought out action can a cricket culture find its true expression. The following are excerpts from the hour-long exclusive interview:
On the challenge in next month’s India tour
The India series is more challenging than any other. In T20Is, since it’s a short format, there is always a chance, no matter how big or small the teams are. Since 70-80 per cent of the matches are decided in the last three or four deliveries, there is always a chance.
In Tests, it’s almost difficult to remember when a team last won a series in India. So that will be a good challenge for us to see how well we do there under these circumstances.
On whether Bangladesh cricket is in transition or going through a bad patch
There was never a transition period since those who have played, have played for a long time now. They played in the World Cup and also after it, so I don’t think it can be put down as a transition period.
On Soumya Sarkar and Sabbir Rahman’s performance
If we look at their records, it’s not bad. Soumya’s record in all the formats is not bad. He is among those who have a good average in our team. Scoring 1,000 runs in relatively a small number of matches and also if you look at his average, he is there. Even in bad times, he is among the top two or three run-scorers of Bangladesh.
Bad patches are different for each individual player. Since expectations on an individual can increase at different times, it’s difficult for them to deliver.
On standard of domestic cricket
Actually, since I don’t play domestic cricket, it’s difficult for me to compare the standard now to when I played. Maybe I played one match but I played the match before that five years ago. If you play one to three matches in eight years, it’s difficult to gauge the standard. The ones who can say are those who have played domestic cricket regularly, played all first-class matches every season and also played in international fixtures.
I have never said [during the Afghanistan series] that there is no point in playing [domestic cricket] or never said that one must play. I said that it can vary from player to player. Maybe it’s not for everyone but for some it may be suitable.
I talked about it already… what more can I say that’s new [laughs]?
If there is infrastructure, obviously it would be very good. It’s not that it will need to be at Dhaka or Mirpur. It’s important that they are in various places, especially in divisional grounds.
On the new fitness benchmark in domestic cricket
I don’t know… it could even have something to do with me going to the World Cup with good fitness and doing well. It’s difficult to say why some things happens at certain times. But obviously it’s a good initiative -- the matter of fitness. International cricket right now is at a level where you will have to be fit. You will have to be really fit and we are behind in that aspect. So, I see the initiative as a good one as if you are not fit then there is no chance of doing well. It’s not like one is guaranteed to do well with good fitness, but without it there is no chance of doing well.
If the facilities are such that he won’t have to travel from, say, Rajshahi to Dhaka to get fit, then obviously it will be very good.
On frustration regarding indoor facilities
In 2009, the indoor facilities were built when [Gazi Ashraf Hossain] Lipu bhai was in charge [of cricket operations] and [AHM Mustafa] Kamal bhai was board president and from that point the indoor facilities have remained the same, and we know what the problems are but those have not been fixed. There is nothing more to say about this. I can’t say the same thing over and over [laughs].
On cricket culture
We never had that culture and it’s still not there now. When a coach comes here, the first thing he tries is to change the cricketing culture prevalent here.
But no matter how much he tries, if we don’t know about that culture, how can we change it?
People’s reaction when they see something that is working, that reaction doesn’t occur through words alone. Isn’t there a saying in English that action speaks louder than words? This thing is like that. Actually, it depends on action.
On whether board has a definitive policy
Since initiatives have been taken now, I am sure that [long-term] policies will be created. What [BCB president Nazmul Hassan] Papon bhai said a few days ago was that long-term plans are being made. If any such plans are made then obviously Bangladesh cricket will reap the benefits.
On his involvement in the selection process and planning as the Test and T20I captain
On speaking frankly about Bangladesh cricket’s problems
That’s something you can tell. The main problem with journalists is that you guys know what the matter is. But you won’t ever say it. You will hear from someone [a player] and then try to say it through them.
And it’s not like you don’t know about the subject matter. All you journalists know what is happening behind the scenes and who has what problems and in what areas. At least when it comes to the country’s cricket, even if you don’t know the whole truth, you guys know 70 or 80 percent. But you never write about them and won’t talk about them. What you will do instead is get a player or someone else and say ‘bhai, you say it and then I will write’. Why?
It’s not that you don’t write at all but it’s very little and doesn’t count.
On BPL’s plan for every team to have one leg-spinner
Again, I will have to say that these are actually matters for first-class cricket. You aren’t able to play leg-spinners in first-class cricket, so how can you play them in franchise-based cricket?
On World Cup frustration
From the perspective of the team, obviously it’s disappointing. I feel that we had a very good opportunity but we couldn’t capitalise on our chances. Our team was in very good condition and I feel that we were very strong compared to other teams. We had opportunities but team-wise we couldn’t use them. It was a factor whether we believed the kind of objectives we had.
On Mashrafe Bin Mortaza’s fitness issues during the World Cup
Rather than fitness, if performance is not up to the mark then that creates anxiety. Fitness won’t be an issue if performance is good. One is obviously related to the other; I feel it’s more about performance.
Naturally, when you perform yourself, you can inspire others to perform. It becomes very difficult to do that when you don’t perform.
On his dream of achieving something big
Every person has a specific goal. If we can win the World Cup once, that will be the ultimate.
On the special BPL, without the involvement of franchises, unlike previous editions
Many cricketers opted out of the Big Bash and signed a BPL agreement. Those players went through a process to do that and naturally they will be disappointed.
Those who encouraged the other players, I don’t know if they will do the same now. Personally, I am very frustrated. But the board will do what it feels is right and I am saying this out of frustration.
I feel that it would have been better if the system which was already in place could have been improved upon.
On long-term planning, a topic that has been much discussed in recent times
You have to ask Papon bhai that (smiles)… why are you asking me?
On whether long-term planning exists
I haven’t seen it. Actually, we only focus on whatever series we have going on. But if it’s something like a World Cup, then maybe we plan six to eight months in advance. Otherwise, we only focus on the ongoing series. It’s a cultural thing. People expect that we will win all matches. We plant a tree and crave the fruits the very next day. This is why it’s difficult to plan long-term.
The guardians of the country’s cricket have a big role to play here. You have to be firm about how you will support the players. A long-term policy maker is needed in this regard. Then a lot of good things will happen. There is a lot to be changed and it’s a technical matter. There are points about requirements. It will be good when someone takes these factors into account while planning. For instance, England has [director of cricket] Andrew Strauss, who plans everything. The planning of the last four years is all his. We need someone like that who can plan only regarding cricket, someone with foresight.
On his plans to join politics
Right now, I am with cricket and want it to remain that way. The future will take care of itself. Let the subject remain open. If there is a situation, then why not? No regrets if it doesn’t happen. What’s going on is nice too.