“I have been thinking about taking the break for quite some time now,” Shakib said. “I have spoken to my family and friends ahead of this series about this break. I think this will help me. Since I play a lot, I can’t focus on my fitness or even try to be mentally fresh. I have been playing for 10-11 years, so I think I deserve a break.”
Shakib-al-Hasan had announced in September after the Bangladesh Cricket Board agreed to his request for a break from Test cricket for six months. It was an unprecedented thing in Bangladesh cricket. No player had felt that he had a right to ask for a “break” from Test cricket, the format that delights the purists.
Expectedly, Twitter was abuzz with tweets criticising Shakib’s lack of commitment to Bangladesh cricket. No questions were asked. Even few were answered. On one of Bangladesh’s most important overseas tours (of South Africa), their most valuable player seemed uninterested to play.
To merely state that Bangladesh lost would be an understatement. They lost big. They lost so bad that their ever-inspiring coach, Chandika Hathurusingha, decided to step aside and let Bangladesh slide down.
He couldn’t be faulted. If their senior most player did not have the heart to step up for his country when they needed him, why would a Sri Lankan do that?
On Sunday, December 10, 2017, two days after Hathurusingha was appointed Sri Lankan coach, Bangladesh cricket decided to take the plunge. They shocked everybody by naming their senior, seemingly non-committed player, Shakib-al-Hasan as their Test skipper.
No more resting from Test series for Shakib, then… https://t.co/sctVVXYAxf
— Alan Gardner (@alanroderick) December 10, 2017
Interestingly, it is just three months since he requested for a break from Test cricket. That Bangladesh chose to name him the Test skipper for the forthcoming Sri Lankan tour was a masterstroke.
“We can’t really talk about the exact reason for changing the captaincy. We now want Mushfiqur to focus on his batting and remain pressure-free,” BCB President, Nazmul Hassan said.
Sep 10 2017 – Shakib requests 6 month break from Tests.
Exactly 3 months later, named Test captain.
— Ahmed (@azkhawaja1) December 10, 2017
Shakib’s previous stint as Test captain, in the 2009-2011 period wasn’t the best. It lasted for just nine Tests, saw victory against a depleted West Indian side without their main players and ended with an embarrassing loss against Zimbabwe. That loss eventually resulted in Shakib-al-Hasan’s ouster as Test skipper.
The time when he took over as Test skipper then, Shakib was a budding all-rounder, capable of pushing Bangladesh up the tiers of Test cricket rankings. It has been six long years since that forgettable phase for Shakib and Bangladesh.
What has changed, then?
Bangladesh is a more rounded unit courtesy the coaching of Hathurusingha. He might have left but their senior player has an aura about him; one that he developed over the six years since he lost the Test captaincy.
Hathurusingha expected so much out of Shakib that his decision to take a break forced the ardent coach to step out of the setup.
Mushfiqur Rahim was so poor a leader that everything from his bowling changes to fielding setups stunk in South Africa. On a green-tinged surface, he rotated his bowlers endlessly within the first ten overs, even bowled a part-timer. The team had stooped to such lows in the absence of Shakib.
It is just that his mere presence reinvigorates Bangladesh cricket. Why it took them so long to understand that such an inspirational figure should lead them is beyond logic. But it probably had something to do with not dumping the all-rounder with truckloads of responsibility.
That it relieves Mushfiqur Rahim to do what he does best – batting – is even more beneficial. Rahim’s stint as skipper was fraught with controversies although Bangladesh won a lot of home games (against England and Australia importantly). They even beat Sri Lanka in an away Test. However, the fact that Rahim was asked to not lead in the most crucial passage of play during their win against England says all wasn’t well with Rahim the skipper.
This year has been woeful for Bangladesh Test cricket. They lost seven of the nine Tests they played although victories against Australia and Sri Lanka masked their fallacies.
But do Bangladesh plan to remain as a fringe Test nation, celebrating their odd victories and being content with the fact that they aren’t capable of more?
They don’t need a skipper. They need a leader. One who can charge them up. One who is experienced enough to show them the way forward. They need the aura of Shakib. They need the talent of Shakib. They need the all-round skills of Shakib. Even if he were on a stretcher, Bangladesh need to pick him and ask him or lead the 10 men on the field from the boundary ropes.
He is a superstar but cannot afford breaks anymore. He may not need it anymore ’cause responsibilities sometimes brings out the best in certain players. Shakib is of that genre. His stint might go uneventful and bad. But if Bangladesh didn’t give him a chance now, they would have regretted forever. Now is the time to act and they have done the right thing by acting right.
Moreover, one needs to think about the other side of coin. It still remains a moot question whether Shakib is interested in captaincy or not. Just yesterday, the BCB boss hinted, the captains of three formats expressed their eagerness to lead from the front even if BCB fails to manage a head-coach before the start of series against Sri Lanka. In that sense, captaincy should not bother Shakib at all and he is familiar with such a job.
But…..for an egoistic and whimsical character like Shakib, this captaincy might seem like a burden as not so long ago, he expressed his disinterest to play Tests by applying for a break of six months. So, if he is given the responsibility of Test side and if, the superstar doesn’t enjoy it, Bangladesh might suffer.
But whatever it is, Shakib must exhibit professionalism and cut short his whims to a greater extent.
The Test captaincy should motivate him.