October 8, 2013

Shakib's star burns bright

He dominated the cricket headlines during Bangladesh's 4-0 win over New Zealand in 2010. Today, he dominates the country's landscape

Bangladesh cricket without Shakib Al Hasan today would be like Pakistan cricket without Imran Khan or West Indies without Garry Sobers. Shakib is the biggest star in Bangladesh in any sphere of public life. And like for any celebrity in the subcontinent, the trappings are ever present. There are commercials to shoot, functions to attend and ribbons to cut. And in between are T20 leagues all over the world to play in.

But this month Shakib is going back to the contest that put him on the world stage. In 2010, Bangladesh beat New Zealand 4-0 at home. It could be dismissed as just an ODI series, but it was a moment in Bangladesh cricket when the world sat up and took notice of their ability. There had been victories in the past, most notably against Australia in 2005, but this win said that Bangladesh could not only beat a higher-ranked side, they could do it four times.

In the series Shakib's batting average was 97.70, which included a century and a fifty. His 11 wickets came at 15.90, he took a four-for and his strike rate was 20.10.

Shakib was a big name in Bangladesh cricket even before the New Zealand series. He had an excellent bowling record in Tests, with seven five-wicket hauls, and had crossed the 1000-run mark in 21 Tests, with one hundred. In ODIs he had a similar batting average but he bowled even better. In T20s, he was emerging as a utility player - he still had a way to go with his batting, but bowling-wise he was up there with the best spinners in the world.

Two and a half years since, he remains Bangladesh's go-to guy. In nine Tests in that period, he has averaged 47.35 and picked up 31 wickets, with two five-wicket hauls. In 31 ODIs he has taken 41 wickets and scored 1010 runs at 37.40. He also played an important role in Kolkata Knight Riders' IPL victory in 2012.

As Shakib has risen as a cricketer, so has his status as the country's biggest icon. His wedding last year was telecast live on many TV channels, though none were allowed inside the hotel where it was held. He speaks to the media sparingly, picking and choosing when and whom to speak to, but even those who aren't cricket lovers recognise him from billboards and television ads. His fans wake up at 5am to watch him play in the Caribbean Premier League. Last month, during an event in the presence of the prime minister's son, Shakib sat on the podium, expressionless for most of two hours, only getting up to make a short speech, but all eyes were constantly on him. A few days ago, when he was asked to talk to a few local kids who had done well in the age-group tournaments and pace-bowling camps, Shakib answered questions patiently but could only stay a while, and had to be rushed out when he left, kids chasing him, police chasing the kids.

He is much more than Bangladesh's best batsman and bowler now. His influence on the country's cricket cannot be quantified. Habibul Bashar, Mohammad Rafique, Mashrafe Mortaza, Mohammad Ashraful, and more recently Tamim Iqbal and Mushfiqur Rahim, are all talented and have enjoyed success and public adulation. The pioneers, like Bashar and Rafique, had to tackle much more than just fast bowlers and flashing blades, because Bangladesh were nowhere in international cricket back then. Mashrafe's plethora of injuries meant he never could express himself properly, while Ashraful remained an unfulfilled talent. Tamim and Mushfiqur have time on their sides, but Shakib's stardom has eclipsed theirs, though he started a year after Mushfiqur and only a few months before Tamim.

He hasn't played a lot of cricket ahead of the current New Zealand series. He turned out in the Caribbean Premier League in August, and in one Dhaka Premier League game in September. An injured thumb kept him out, and in 2013 he only featured for Bangladesh on their tour to Zimbabwe, where he looked rusty.

Brendon McCullum recently admitted that New Zealand were ill-prepared ahead of 2010 ODI series in Bangladesh. This time the talk from the New Zealand camp is all about confidence, preparation and revenge, but if New Zealand are to win, they have get past Shakib.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on October 12, 2013, 13:24 GMT

    sakib is the first person in bangladesh team who was always consistent in his performance.whenever needed he puts some contribution.he is great in a sense that new comers are now getting a person to follow.a few years ago BD team was fully dependent on sakib.now when Sakib is out there is still boys like nasir, mushfique,sohag who can continue.sakib is like a bright light which indicates path of pogress to new comers.that is why we are calling him great.

  • Dummy4 on October 10, 2013, 21:42 GMT

    Shakib i would say is more of a bowling all-rounder and i am sure any team would have him in their team because if you have him, you can afford to have a batsman less or bowler less. He is a world class player no doubt, he may not be a world class batsman but averages more than average in batting but its undeniable he is a world class spinner/bowler. Also people misread or misinterpreted what M. Isam was trying to point out; Shakib has the same effect on Bangladesh as Imran khan did to Pakistan and what G. Sobers (i am lucky to have met him) did to WI.

  • Dummy4 on October 10, 2013, 12:46 GMT

    I think you are right. Without Sakib, Bangladesh team is like a prime minister less country. He is great.

  • Mark on October 9, 2013, 23:49 GMT

    I agree that Shakib is best that Bangladesh has produced (by a long way I might add), but comparing Shakib to Garry Sobers or Imran Khan? You've got to be joking. If that's the case you may as well throw Simon Katch into the mix.

  • Cyril on October 9, 2013, 20:45 GMT

    A country of over 150million people, that is cricket crazy, has only produced one world-level player. That's a massive shame. Bangladesh has massive potential as a cricketing force, but the administration holds them back. Priorities are so distorted from the PR disaster of the BPL to their continual production of lifeless, boring Test match wickets. Bangladesh does itself no favours. There is a huge market to be exploited as the country develops economically, but those at the top are unqualified and selfish. Any suggestions how they can progress?

  • Sam on October 9, 2013, 14:55 GMT

    Shakib's Test batting average is 36. Bowling average is 32. Neither is hardly high quality by itself but when you put them together, it is more than acceptable and a number of countries would like to have a player of such numbers in their team so I think it is fair to say that he at least approaches a world class. If you consider the shorter formats, his numbers are more encouraging and, given the value of an allrounder in shorter formats, he is definitely world class. Still, the fact that he is such a towering figure worthy of comparison to Sobers and Imran in Bangladesh is only a testament to a. (I am sad to say this but) the poor overall quality of BD cricketers and b. the increasing importance to shorter formats in general but especially in countries that do not have the right players to succeed in Tests. (Sri Lanka seems to going in this direction and possibly India...??)

  • Amir on October 9, 2013, 12:03 GMT

    Some people are misunderstanding MD. Isam's comment about Sobers and Imran. He meant the impact of Shakib on BD cricket is like the impact Imran and Gary had on their respective countries. Nowhere he compared Shakib to Gary and Imran on playing abilitiues. He is correct in his assertion. Shakib is a bit out of form with the bat at this time but he will bounce back. BD needs him but we also need others to step up, especially the batsmen in position of 2,3&4. Go BD.

  • gurinder on October 9, 2013, 11:51 GMT

    shakib is big fish in small pond. when he faced big bowlers in ipl or abroad he was timid. i guess he played too much cricket on bangladesh flat tracks and got complacent. on swinging tracks like mohali or dharamshala , he cud not hit a single four. hope he improve in foreign conditions in near future.

  • Dummy4 on October 9, 2013, 11:27 GMT

    He is the best cricketer Bangladesh has ever produced (with respect to all other players) and off course he can be compared to Garry Sobers and others. And compared to cricketers of other countries he is less praised by international media. Even by some Bangladeshis I see.

  • harvey on October 9, 2013, 11:18 GMT

    Nice but very exaggerated article. Shakib is a good player, not a great like player Sobers or Imran. Also, these two were not the only cricketers produced by their respective nations. Losing them would not have affected their countries' status because Pakistan could still call on legends like Javed, Akram, Younis, Inzi etc. Windies could still call on Lara, Richards, 3 W's Greenidge etc. Losing Shakib would though because Bangladesh barely play cricket. While they are exciting, they lack nous.