"I don't have words, honestly," Bangladesh's batting coach Thilan Samaraweera said about Shakib Al Hasan's ridiculous batting performance against Sri Lanka on the second day of the first Test in March 2017.
Lakshan Sandakan had just dismissed two Bangladesh batsman off successive balls and Shakib entered fray to face the hat-trick ball and what did he do? He swept it in front of square on the leg side for a boundary. Another wicket fell in the next over. The Tigers had to bat out just a couple of overs but Shakib was hell bent on displaying his deranged version. He cut a chinaman as late as he could, top edged a pacer and almost chopped on too. Out of the seven balls that he had faced before stumps on Day 2, three were half chances gifted to the opposition and oh, not to forget he was also dropped. If a parent wanted to explain to his kid, what irresponsibility and absent-mindedness meant, this was the moment.
Shakib did score a century on the third day of the Test, a match Bangladesh eventually won, but he is a character. Time and again he has been guilty of playing risky shots that trigger a collapse or result in a loss. Take this year's Wellington Test as an example. It was the first over of Day five of the 1st Test, Bangladesh was fighting for a draw. But after facing just four dots, Shakib decided to give catching practice to Kane Williamson at mid on on the fifth ball. He had managed to take the shine off his double century in the first innings with an unforgivable 5-ball duck.
Tim Southee was fired up. His Kiwi mates must have told him about the agonies they had gone through in Ireland after Bangladesh defeated them a couple of weeks ago. He wasn't a part of that team. None of New Zealand's mainstays were. He had the look of an elder brother who had showed up to take the revenge of his younger sibling. He seemed to have struck a deal with English weather and the Cardiff groundsman in the interval after his side had collapsed from 201/4 to 265/8 in the slog overs of their innings. The clouds were hovering over Sophia Gardens and pitch had become lively. Believe it or not, the new ball was swinging for the first time at the 2017 Champions Trophy, a tournament which was going on in England. Southee isn't someone who displays his anger on the field, he just channels it through his performance. He shaped it in, swung it away, beat the inside edge, whistled past the batsman's outside edge, he did all the nasty things a pacer could do when conditions are favourable. Bangladesh were in deep trouble.
Tamim Iqbal, Bangladesh's best batsman, was sent back to the hut on the second ball of the chase. Sabbir Rahman decided to tackle the wrath of Southee with aggression before the latter had the former caught behind to have the last laugh. It looked like Southee had done a service to Soumya Sarkar when he trapped him LBW to end his short stay at the crease, because the southpaw simply couldn't comprehend the Kiwi's swing. The Tigers were 12/3 in the 5th over. What essentially was a 266 run chase had now become a 290-300 chase because of the early wickets.
During these dire circumstances, Shakib Al Hasan sauntered out in the middle. His situation was like that of an individual whose legs were tied up to a huge rock and was thrown into the ocean to fend for himself. Partnering him was Mushfiqur Rahim. A partner who could absorb the pressure and see off the difficult phase. A partner who, not so long ago, was successful in similar conditions in Wellington against the same attack (add Neil Wagner) until he was forced to retire hurt after he took a blow on his helmet. A partner with whom he had stitched Bangladesh's highest ever Test partnership five months ago against the same opposition in away conditions. Shakib just had to control his natural instincts and bat maturely.
It felt as if Bangladesh were just extending the inevitable when the dot balls started piling up as Trent Boult amalgamated with Southee to help his side stay alive in the tournament. At the end of first powerplay their score read 24/3. They had managed to fetch only three boundaries: Sabbir had scored two of them in the first over itself and the third came when Ross Taylor dropped Mushfiqur at first slip and the ball rolled away to the third man fence. In the first hour, where the ball had swung like never before in the Champions Trophy 2017, Mushfiqur had taken the majority of the strike; he faced 27 balls to Shakib's 9. Work loads didn't matter to Kane Williamson as a committed Southee was up on his mark and ready to bowl his sixth and innings' 11th over (He went on to bowl a 7-over spell eventually). Although by the time he finished it, one thing had become certain, the swing had subsided and the deck had eased down. Now our time will come, Mushfiqur and Shakib would've thought. There was hope for Bangladesh with these two at the centre but unfortunately it wasn't going to last long.
Adam Milne was introduced into the attack in the 11th over. If the early swing wasn't enough, Bangladesh now had to face Milne, a bowler who only likes numbers that are above 140. Mushfiqur flat-pulled the Kiwi pacer over his head to hint that they weren't just going to try and survive. However, Milne responded by flooring Mushfiqur's middle stump on the very next ball. Shakib had lost his partner and all of a sudden, he was at the forefront. His team had lost four wickets and needed 233 runs off 230 balls. A victory seemed far fetched. Bangladesh were on the brink of elimination and it was not for the first time that despite looking exceptionally promising they failed to perform when it mattered. Promise which otherwise is a positive word, but for Bangladesh cricket was slowly becoming abominating.
"If I change my approach, I don't think I will be Shakib," concluded the all-rounder in Hyderabad after playing one of his trademark knocks against India. It was a routine innings, yes he had negated Umesh Yadav's searing spell. But other than that it was a knock which was filled with boundaries and full of risks. It could be argued that Shakib's style is to dominate the bowlers and he wouldn't have even reached 82 had he played in a different manner. But the truth is a charge down the track and a miscued stroke to mid on was simply not required when Bangladesh were hardly in a comfortable position against the opposition. He had not only allowed India an opening by helping them break a 107-run stand with captain Mushfiqur but also let his team down.
Shakib's response once Mustafizur fell showed a set plan which he followed throughout the innings: rotate the strike frequently and take minimal risks. New Zealand's tactic to bowl back of a length to the southpaw didn't materialise as an inch or two here and there resulted in a Shakib boundary. But besides that he was being cautious. He continued taking the ones and twos until a bad ball came his way. His innings was so unlike Shakib that between the 18th and 40th over, he hit only two boundaries and allowed Mahmudullah to break free from the other end. There was a phase in Mahmdullah's innings where he was trying too many things to get the boundaries. He attempted a couple of scoops and ramp shots until Shakib intervened and asked him to calm down. The maturity with which Shakib played frustrated the Kiwi bowlers as captain Williamson was forced to introduce himself into the attack in pursuit of a wicket.
Shakib later said that he and Mahmudullah didn't communicate much during the partnership. But with the score at 183/3 at the 37th over mark, the pair had to make a decision of what to do next. They had only one recognised batsman left in Mosaddek Hossain, could they leave him and the others around 80-85 runs to get in 13 overs? The match had come to a stage where nervousness had started creeping in both sides. The pressure was on and we all are aware of how Bangladesh reacts in such situations (read: Bengaluru T20I).
So, the duo opted to take it as deep as possible. When Shakib got to his 8th ODI hundred through a top-edged six, he was so focused on his job that he didn't even celebrate. All he did was bump fist with Mahmudullah before returning to apply the finishing touches. With 17 needed off 24 balls, Shakib timed a punch ever so delightfully that it raced off to the long on fence in no time before hammering Boult through covers to score consecutive boundaries. He was eyeing a grand finish but Boult went through his defence to end a spectacular hundred. Shakib had changed his approach and yet remained Shakib as he walked back to the applauds of not only the Bangladesh supporters but also the Kiwi players.
He went to bat when his 12/3 and stayed at the crease till the penultimate over to script one of the best ODI comebacks and keep Bangladesh's hopes alive in the tournament. This time Samaraweera won't have a lot of questions to be answered. Let me rephrase, Shakib didn't leave any questions to be asked. If a parent wanted his kid to learn what maturity, composure, temperament meant, Friday was the moment.
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Updated Date: Jun 16, 2017 18:18:52 IST