Shakib sets another new standard in Bangladesh cricket
By requesting for a six-month break from Tests, Shakib Al Hasan has brought a first-world problem to Bangladesh cricket. And by partially accepting his offer, the BCB has officially started managing player fatigue.
A previous generation of cricketers could not have even imagined voluntarily giving up international matches to take a break. Bangladesh hardly played enough matches and even when they got Test status in 2000, the hunger to keep playing led to many players grudgingly accepting their ouster, axing or retirement.
Shakib, though, has now thrown the door open for the current lot to think differently, as he has often done in the last 10 years. He has brought consistency, a stronger sense of professionalism and star power to Bangladesh cricket, and now this - a request that could trigger the change in a system to meet the demand of having more cricketers good enough for the national setup.
Already Bangladesh have three separate captains for Tests, ODIs and T20s but the core of all three sides is almost the same. The continuation with that core group - Shakib, Tamim Iqbal, Mashrafe Mortaza, Mahmudullah and Mushfiqur Rahim - is being lauded as the reason why Bangladesh have progressed so much in the last two years. But Mashrafe is already limited to ODIs having stopped playing Tests, to manage his leg injuries since 2009, and having retired from T20Is earlier this year.
It is still a very progressive way of thinking for a Bangladeshi cricketer who, by the design of the system in the country, doesn't play as many matches as his Indian, Pakistani or Sri Lankan counterparts. But now it is clear that the BCB will entertain such requests, although it has come soon after the player has done something worthwhile.
At first glance, it might seem like an outlandish request from Shakib who has not played even half the number of Tests compared to some other allrounders in the last three years. But a more wholesome look at his international career, coupled with his lengthy T20 experience, does reveal overload. He has played more days of cricket - international and T20s - than any Bangladeshi cricketer since he became a regular in the IPL since 2011.
Shakib's primary duty is that of a middle-order mainstay and he has been a consistent performer with the bat over the last 10 years. He was the team's leading run-scorer for most parts of 2017, falling behind Mushfiqur by eight runs only recently, having also made his maiden double-hundred in New Zealand, and he followed it up with a counter-attacking century against Sri Lanka in Bangladesh's 100th Test.
In addition to his batting, it is his marathon spells that have truly put the load on Shakib. This year has been one of only two years in which he has bowled more than 300 overs in a calendar year. The last time it happened was in 2010 in which Bangladesh played seven Tests. In unhelpful conditions in New Zealand, Shakib bowled long spells in Christchurch while in India, Mushfiqur was questioned for under-bowling him in Hyderabad.
But in Sri Lanka, where Bangladesh pushed for their first Test win in the country, Shakib bowled an average of 31 overs per innings. At home against Australia after a considerable break since the Champions Trophy, Shakib ended up bowling 90.5 overs; in the second innings of the Dhaka Test, he bowled virtually unchanged on the critical fourth day.
When he took over the lead spinner's role from the retiring Mohammad Rafique in 2008, Shakib encountered immense workload for the first time. It was his best year till date - in terms of wickets - having taken 30 scalps in 291.2 overs, with four five-fors. After a quiet 2009, he bowled 348.4 overs the following year, so far his busiest as a Test bowler.
It set the trend as Shakib continued to be the go-to player when it came to attacking the batsmen, keeping things quiet in the middle sessions or even to bowl negatively. He had to do it all, and with very few spinners settling into a role in the Test side, the workload only got heavier for him.
It led to his first major injury, in 2013, which made him miss the Sri Lanka Tests that year.
Last year, Shakib welcomed the arrival of Mehidy Hasan Miraz, an orthodox spinner in the Shakib mould, who didn't mind bowling long spells. Taijul Islam has also helped in home conditions, reducing Shakib's overs per innings to the twenties.
Taijul had, coincidentally, made his Test debut in the West Indies series in 2014, the one in which Shakib was suspended on disciplinary grounds. It was the last time Shakib had missed Tests and it ended up being a disastrous tour for Bangladesh, losing the Tests 2-0.
Knowing how results can be affected without Shakib, it now comes down to how Mushfiqur and Chandika Hathurusingha will cope without the allrounder this time.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84