"Taunton and Bengali left-handed batsmen is an old love story"
This Facebook post by a cricket enthusiast caught my attention when Shakib Al Hasan was sledgehammering his way to a scintillating hundred against the West Indies pace attack on Monday. Back in the 1999 World Cup, Sourav Ganguly was in a similar devastating mood alongside Rahul Dravid, when India put up a mammoth 373/6 at this particular venue against the defending champions Sri Lanka. Till date, the locals have a fond memory of that match, to be specific the dominance of the two Indian stalwarts. And now, following the latest Bangladesh-West Indies fixture, the tiny little town in southern Somerset has one more saga to cherish.
The innings Shakib played to see his team through to a massive seven-wicket triumph over the Windies, is exceptional in many ways. He not only showcased his class and flair as a batsman, right from the beginning the southpaw stamped his authority in the proceedings with his positive intent.
In a run-chase of 322, following a brisk start when Soumya Sarkar got out to a short ball off Andre Russell, West Indies were eyeing to get the control back. Caribbean skipper Jason Holder set a very attacking field to the next man, Shakib. Perhaps, the Windies think tank was aware of the fact that fitness-wise, the Bangladesh all-rounder was not at his best. He was supposed to miss the previous fixture against Sri Lanka in Bristol, which was eventually washed out. Hence, despite his rich form, Shakib was needed to start from scratch in this run chase. Furthermore, at that point, there was a mild but steady drizzle and the light was not that great either.
Overall, it was not an ideal situation for batting, especially for a newcomer at the crease.
First ball, Russell bowled on a fullish length. Shakib just timed the ball past mid-off for a triple. The third ball was short and he was ready to play the pull shot. Next over, against Holder, the left-hander walked at him and slapped a good length delivery down the ground for a boundary. The message was loud and clear: He would play fire with fire.
Shakib's innings was underway in a confident manner. Anything off-line was punished. He was equally fluent on front and back foot. Even good balls were not spared. Right from the beginning, his timing was top-notch, which provided him the early momentum and Bangladesh's newly-appointed No 3 never looked back from there. At times, some of his expansive shots were hit with incredible power but because of his class and composure at the crease, those seemed remarkably effortless.
Most importantly, the short-pitch stuff was dismissed with disdain, which had a psychological impact on the Windies attack. Nine of his 16 boundaries came from short balls. They had five genuine fast bowlers, but no one seemed to have any impact as Shakib continued to counter-attack in his merry way. His runs were scored all around the wicket and for the major part of the innings, he hardly mistimed; and on a few odd occasions that he did, the ball landed safely.
Perhaps, that's why they say, luck always favours the brave and it was indeed one of the gutsiest knocks one has seen in recent times.
Shakib's hundred was scored in just 83 balls and by that time chips were already down in the Windies camp. Towards the end of the innings, he played second fiddle to Liton Das. Perhaps, Shakib wanted the youngster to reach the three-figure mark as well. Eventually, Liton remained unbeaten on a delightful 94, but Bangladesh crossed the line with 51 balls to spare, keeping their semi-final hopes alive.
Meanwhile, following this unbeaten 124 off 99 balls, Shakib now has 384 runs in this World Cup at an average of 128, which includes consecutive hundreds against England and West Indies and half-centuries against South Africa and New Zealand. As of now, he is the highest scorer in the tournament along with his five scalps with the ball.
"Mindset is very important," Shakib said following the end of the game. "At this level, in this atmosphere, mental strength is very helpful. Fitness is important too, but the more you can be courageous, everything clicks. The battle is within oneself. If you keep telling yourself 'I am winning' it will definitely help you win.
"I am seeing the ball really well. I think it is one of the key part of my batting. I am getting more time. I was never in a rush chasing these runs. I was patient enough to put the bad ball away.
"In terms of runs, it is my best. I have done well in the past but it is not necessary that you always make the most runs or take the most wickets when you have the best mindset. I am in a good place now, which I want to continue," the all-rounder, who is playing his fourth World Cup, further added.
Now, going forward in this World Cup, all eyes will be on Shakib as Bangladesh eyeing to rewrite history.