Shakib Al Hasan.
What can one say about such a man?
There have been raised eyebrows, and shakes of unconvinced heads when in these very pages we have compared his contributions in the formative days of Bangladesh cricket with that of Aubrey Faulkner for South Africa.
But does one need more evidence that this is one genuine great that the young cricketing nation can be proud of?
It was the modern giant’s 50th Test match. And what did he do? A fantastic 84 in the first innings, to pull Bangladesh out from the doldrums of 10 for 3 to help them post 260. 5 for 68 the first time Australia batted. And then 5 for 85 as the visitors tried valiantly to chase down 265.
Shakib thus became the first cricketer in the history of the game to score 80-plus and capture 10 wickets on two different occasions. He had done so earlier against Zimbabwe at Khulna in 2014.
All the second innings wickets that he captured were of top order batsmen, including the crucial ones of David Warner and Steven Smith.
Indeed, when Warner completed his hundred and seemed determined to go further with his brisk scoring and take the game away, with Smith holding one end up with all his proven ability, it was a period of genuine anxiety for the hosts. The pitch continued to assist turn with the bounce remaining variable, but the two senior batsmen of the side had already put on 130, going past the highest fourth innings stand by Australia in the sub-continent.
It was 158 for 2, the remaining runs required just over hundred. Australia were favourites by some distance. And that was when Shakib struck. Warner tried to pull one that did not climb as much as he expected and skidded on him to trap him plumb. Four overs later, Smith feathered a cut off the Bangladesh great into the gloves of Mushfiqur Rahim.
As we had written yesterday, a wicket was all that was needed to put Bangladesh back in the running. And Shakib had provided two.
He followed it up with two more important ones. Skidding one into the batsman, he got Matthew Wade leg before. And finally Glenn Maxwell went back to cut the first ball after lunch and it crashed into his stumps off a thin edge. The last of the batsmen gone, and Australia 199 for 8. Shakib had put them on the brink of a historic triumph.
It was not over without the final skirmish. Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon, hardcore Aussies that they are, added 29 for the ninth wicket. Once Mehidy Hasan had got Lyon with one that bounced and took the glove, Cummins blitzkreiged his way to 15 in an over to bring the target down to 21. But it was just a question of keeping one’s nerve, and even as Sheikh Hasina looked on from the stands Taijul Islam trapped Josh Hazlewood in front with one that spun in. The epochal victory was completed, the first ever over the Australians.
Curiously, in the first 16 years of their Test history, Bangladesh had won matches only over Zimbabwe and a wafer thin West Indies. In the past few months they have overcome England, Sri Lanka and Australia, three major powers in the game. It is more than certain now that none of the exceptional triumphs was a flash in the pan. The side has gone from strength to strength and is now built on the foundations of experience and class, with plenty of talent to bank upon.
While dwelling on the experience one has to spare a word for the other man who alongside Shakib was playing his 50th Test match. Tamim Iqbal hit 71 and 78 in the two innings, and played as crucial a role in the victory. One of the reasons that Bangladesh cricket has enjoyed an exponentially upward curve in the past year is that this stalwart opener has reached fruition as a complete batsman. In Tamim and Shakib, the side does have two genuine world class cricketers.
Yesterday, at the other side of the world, West Indies overcame England in one of the most breathtaking Test matches of the century. And today Bangladesh effectively shrugged off the minnow tag once and for all by defeating Australia in another fantastic Test match.
The double act does augur well for the future of cricket.