A little less than three overs left in the day. Lights fading. Replying to Sri Lanka’s 338, Bangladesh have just lost three quick wickets to be pegged back from 192 for 2 to 198 for 5. Enters team’s most experienced batsman — Shakib al Hasan.
In such circumstances, any senior batsman in the team will take control of the situation by playing risk-free cricket and try to take his team to Stumps without any further damage.
But not Shakib. On Day 2 of the ongoing second Test at P Sara, he scored a breathtaking 8-ball 18.
In fact, he was lucky to survive the day, courtesy of a drop chance of Upul Tharanga. He dropped Shakib when the southpaw slogged Sandakan straight to him. The ball burst through his hand and went to the fence.
But, again, when everybody is after his head, Shakib comes up with a brilliant hundred on Day 3 to take the visitors on the driver’s seat in their landmark 100th Test match.
This is the unpredictability of Shakib Al Hasan for you.
The southpaw may be considered amongst the greatest all-rounders of modern day cricket, but in the cricketing circles of Bangladesh, Shakib is regarded as a double-edged sword. In the course of the same match, he can be a hero and a villain.
Here are some recent flashbacks…
Chittagong 2016: Following a hard-fought ODI series, Bangladesh went into the first Test against England at Chittagong with a positive frame of mind and when they bowled out the opposition for 293, their confidence was lifted further. The hosts did all the hard work to finish the second day on 221 for 5, trailing England by 72 runs. On Day three, all hopes and expectations were lying on their most experienced player – Shakib – who remained not out on 31 overnight.
To take the Tigers to a driving seat, the need of the hour for Shakib was to bat sensibly. On that track, a lead of around 50-60 runs would have been handy. But Shakib, being Shakib did exactly what he shouldn’t. He came down the track off-spinner Moeen Ali in the very second ball of the third day as he totally misjudged the line of the delivery only to be stumped by Jonny Bairstow without adding a run to his overnight score. Bangladesh were all out for 248 in their first innings and eventually went on to lose the match by a narrow margin of 22 runs.
Basin Reserve 2017: Courtesy of Shakib’s record breaking 217 and Mushfiqur Rahim’s 159, Bangladesh put up a record 595 in their first innings. In reply, the Kiwis also scored 539 and till the start of the third session of Day 4, it seemed Bangladesh will earn a draw from this Test match.
But then came Shakib’s brain fade.
Bangladesh were 66 for 3 when the left-hander came to crease and on the fifth ball of his innings, he wanted to loft Mitchell Santner but couldn’t connect properly and at mid-off Kane Williamson completed the easy catch. Bangladesh went on the lose that match as well.
Hyderabad 2017: Bangladesh were playing their first ever Test match on Indian soil and Shakib looked all set to become the first Bangladeshi to score a Test hundred on Indian soil. On a slow turner, against the likes of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja – the best bowling pair in the world right now – Shakib looked at ease. But suddenly, trying to play his ‘natural game’ the left-hander came down the track against Ashwin and hit straight to Umesh Yadav at long-on.
Natural game of arrogance?
In cricket, the meaning of ‘natural game’ is – instinctive approach. But you cannot play irresponsible cricket under the banner of ‘natural game’, which Shakib often does. You have to think about the team’s need, match situation.
“You can play a natural game but you have to be aware of what the opposition is doing. That is cricket. What the opposition is doing, what is the field placement, what’s coming – that is the key. You can’t play your natural game every day,” with this statement, Thilan Samaraweera, Bangladesh clearly explains the difference between ‘natural game’ and reckless cricket.
Shakib without ego — one of the best in the business
However, there is no doubt about his skills. On his day, if he manages to keep control of his temperament, Shakib can dominate best of bowling attacks. He did it against Trent Boult and co in New Zealand, against Ashwin-Jadeja in India and then, on Friday during the course of his fifth Ton, against the likes of Rangana Herath, Lakshan Sandakan etc. at Sri Lanka’s den, the P Sara Oval. It was because of his 159-ball 116, Bangladesh breezed past Sri Lanka’s first innings score and registered a handy lead. Now they can even hope to topple the hosts.
For a cricketer, it is not harmful to be arrogant. But he should convert his arrogance as one of his strengths, not weaknesses. If one looks at contemporary greats like Virat Kohli, David Warner, Steven Smith — they all have transformed their weaknesses into strengths. Shakib should take a leaf out of their book.
When Shakib takes time, trusts his defense and willing to give bowlers due respect, he generally thrives and for Bangladesh cricket, him doing well with both bat and ball is a very important aspect. As a keen admirer of this talented cricketer, we really hope at times he restrains himself playing his ‘natural game’.