West Indies in Bangladesh 2012-13 November 12, 2012

Shakib's bowling workload a worry

Shakib Al Hasan is being over-bowled every season, and is going into another with a heavy load staring him down as he leads a group of inconsistent fast bowlers and a very inexperienced spin attack

Shakib Al Hasan is only four away from 100 Test wickets. The all-rounder will become the second Bangladeshi bowler to reach the milestone after Mohammad Rafique, the former left-arm spinner from whom he took over the mantle of the team's leading bowler four years ago. But the responsibility also means Shakib is being over-bowled every passing season, and is going into another with a heavy load staring him down as he leads a group of inconsistent and yet to be proven fast bowlers and a very inexperienced spin attack.

Shakib's workload is a matter of concern for the team management, especially because his predominant skill is batting. He has been successful managing both but before the World Twenty20 in September, he complained of knee problems and even skipped the Sri Lanka Premier League due to a niggle. He has a surgery planned for later this year, but given his commitments and the domestic season, it could be rescheduled to next year.

Ever since Rafique's retirement in 2008, Shakib has been given the task of not just bowling economical spells but making breakthroughs, separating partnerships and even cutting out the runs by bowling over the wicket, into the rough. He has racked up impressive figures too, picking up nine five-fors in his short career.

Interim coach Shane Jurgensen, who was the team's bowling coach until Richard Pybus' resignation last month, has been told by Shakib that he enjoys bowling in Tests but Jurgensen wants the all-rounder to put more of his efforts in his preferred suit.

"He is very happy he'll be bowling in a Test rather than just four overs," Jurgensen told ESPNcricinfo. "His prime objective in Twenty20s has been to contain the batsman so he's really excited to be bowling in the longer format.

"At the same time, we have to consider his workload. He bats for us at No. 5 and given his talent, we want him to score double-hundreds, for instance. He has the potential to score big runs so we have to keep an eye on how much he bowls."

How much has he bowled since Rafique's retirement? Shakib has delivered a mind-boggling 513.1 more overs than any Bangladesh bowler in all international formats. He brings in the wickets too, 93 in Tests since Rafique left, far ahead of Bangladesh's next best effort, 26, from Shahadat Hossain.

This season Shakib will be hoping the likes of Elias Sunny and Sohag Gazi reduce some of his load, but just like last season when Shakib did the bulk of the work and let Sunny get acquainted with the pressures of Test cricket, it could still be the same situation. The quicks too are unlikely to be asked to bowl a lot unless they find the Mirpur and Khulna wickets friendly enough.

Jurgensen, however, was happy to see some of the pace bowlers hit the straps in the first-class competition though Rubel Hossain is still going to need more time before he could be asked for long spells. "I am happy with how much they've bowled so far. Shahadat [Hossain] and [Abul Hasan] Raju have been bowling regularly after Eid while Rubel [Hossain] has not, but he's fit to be bowling.

"I am also pleased with the combination we've got, but I am sad for Nazmul [Hossain] missing out. We wanted to make sure we have pace in our attack."

Shakib, though, remains Mushfiqur Rahim's go-to bowler, not because of their friendship since school days or for the mere fact that they have combined the best off Shakib's bowling. But mainly because it is only Shakib who can offer economy, wickets and safety in a Test match.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent in Bangladesh