The Star of the World Cup So Far Has Been Shakib Al Hasan

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The Star of the World Cup So Far Has Been Shakib Al Hasan

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t has taken 20 long years for the Cricket World Cup to return to the British Isles. And it has been some ride. About three weeks into the tournament, the four spots for the semi-finals looked all but sealed. But all it took was one upset for the cat to be thrown among the pigeons. Ever since Sri Lanka’s unexpected win over England, no team barring Australia and India has had a smooth and assured passage through to the next round. And now as the league phase is over, even though the same four teams have progressed to the next round, one could not complain about the lack of drama.

Twenty years ago, the World Cup in England was lit up by South Africa’s enigmatic all-rounder Lance Klusner. His signature performances both with the bat and ball throughout the tournament and the heartbreak that followed remain permanently etched among cricket’s most fervently recounted tales. The 2019 World Cup has had a similar story to tell of another left-handed all-rounder who has possibly even surpassed Klusner’s exploits.

Bangladesh’s Shakib Al Hasan bowls left-arm orthodox spin. This particular variety of bowlers is perhaps the least glamorous breed this sport has on offer. He bats with a heavy stance, prefers playing cross-batted shots and has an awkward looking grip. Nothing about his game scores heavily on aesthetics. He isn’t the cleanest striker of the ball either. And yet, there is that mercurial element in Shakib’s game that makes it impossible to ignore him in the middle of action.

Bangladesh entered the 2019 World Cup as a team many looked forward to but almost no one thought of as serious contenders. The team has come a long way from the days they were billed “minnows” and is now good enough to beat any team on a given day. In the subcontinent in fact, they would start with a very realistic chance to finish in the final four ahead of many a team with bigger reputations. But no one could be faulted for doubting their pedigree to go far in conditions they still do not feel at home in.

The staggering numbers with the bat almost take one’s attention off Shakib’s contribution with the ball.

But Shakib had very different ideas. He was not to be fazed by the enormity of the occasion. With over 200 ODI caps, he was now more than adept to deal with the challenge posed by conditions. His promotion to bat at No 3 was the idea that changed Bangladesh’s fortunes. For some strange reason, Shakib hasn’t batted at 3 consistently throughout his career despite producing the most prolific returns from that position. But there couldn’t have been a more opportune time to prove his mettle as the fulcrum of Bangladesh’s batting.

And that is exactly what Shakib did. He batted and batted. He scored runs and scored them with real intent. He was not here to accumulate numbers and pad his career stats. He was here to win and to send a very strong message to the rest of the cricketing world that Bangladesh were no longer a team to be taken lightly. A victory over South Africa at the very start of their campaign delivered that message loud and clear. Shakib was among runs. Shakib was among wickets.

Perhaps the most defining knock of his ODI career so far came in Bangladesh’s game against the West Indies. Playing England in the game before, Bangladesh never quite got the hang of the mighty chase. Shakib scored a hundred but in the game’s context it was little more than a statistical detail. That had to change. West Indies too put up a big total in excess of 300. West Indies played the game with an out and out pace attack. Theirs may not be the most disciplined attack but if there’s one thing they are good at, it’s bowling fast. And extra pace has always been Bangladesh’s perceived weakness.

Not only did Shakib replicate his heroics from the previous game with another hundred, he carried the team home with more than eight overs to spare. In a tournament where teams batting first have had such an overwhelming advantage over the opponents, Bangladesh making light work of a 322 run chase is a story that deserved to be written about more. This was most definitely Bangladesh’s most authoritative batting performance in all World Cups and to no one’s surprise, Shakib was at its forefront.

At the end of the league phase, Shakib is among the three most prolific batsmen in the tournament having scored over 600 runs. But Bangladesh’s campaign has come to an end here. It started on an outstandingly positive note but steadily kept losing steam as it progressed. An elementary fielding error against New Zealand, and losing the big moments in a couple of well-paced chases against Australia and India are going to be hard to move on from. Shakib could have done with more consistent support from his fellow batsmen.

The staggering numbers with the bat almost take one’s attention off Shakib’s contribution with the ball. He has achieved the rarest distinction by becoming the first player to score over 500 runs and bag over 10 wickets in a single World Cup. Shakib has spent a considerable period of his career carrying the burden of being both the best batsman and bowler of his team. That is slowly changing but as the results have showed, much is left to be desired.

In any other World Cup, Shakib walks with the Man of the Tournament award after producing such outrageous numbers. But perhaps he may fall short here. The three other key contenders – David Warner, Rohit Sharma, and Mitchell Starc – are all still alive in the tournament and a defining performance in a knockout game might just edge it for one of them. 

But regardless of who bags the award, Shakib has without a shadow of doubt been the story of this World Cup. Australia won the title in 1999 but the first name that pops up on anyone’s mind at the slightest mention of that World Cup is Klusner’s. Only time will tell whether Shakib’s tale attains that kind of cult status in the years to come. Perhaps it will. Or maybe it won’t. But either way, what Shakib has pulled off here is a once-in-a-generation performance.

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