A case study in mismanagement
It has been one week since Shakib Al Hasan was told he can't play for six months. A Bangladesh team without their best player of the past five years is inconceivable, but the events of the last six months have revealed the many shades of Shakib, and not just of the cricketer.
Opinions are split on the six-month ban and the 18-month NOC withdrawal. In the ESPNcricinfo poll conducted from July 7 to 14, 47% of respondents believed the sentence was too harsh, while exactly the same percentage believed it was the right decision. Less than 5% were undecided. More than 131,000 votes were registered, which also showed the extent of Shakib's popularity.
Other debates rage on about the punishment. Did the BCB take a hasty decision, or had it come too late for a player who had been embroiled in several off-field misdemeanors? In Shakib's corner is his impact as an allrounder, and the fact the BCB had been unable to spell out exactly why he has been suspended.
Immediately after the BCB president announced Shakib's punishment, many of the directors fumbled to point out the exact breaches in the code of conduct. Later that evening, a clause was discovered in the player contract that allows the BCB to take any action in the event of a breach. Leaving the dressing room during an international match, beating up a spectator who had teased his wife, arguing with the head coach, and doing all this only a few months after being banned for three international matches can certainly be considered a collective infringement deserving of censure, but the BCB hasn't said as much.
For now Shakib has to either wait for a letter from the BCB or, as the acting CEO Nizamuddin Chowdhury said on Saturday, base his response on the BCB's press release from last Monday. Shakib's silence in the meantime has done enough to draw some of the BCB directors into defending themselves. In a TV talk show, a lawyer expressed his surprise to Khaled Mahmud over his need to come out and defend the decision.
Mahmud is a BCB director, a former Bangladesh captain and more significantly the team manager during the recent series against India. Mahmud's report was critical in the disciplinary hearing of Shakib's brawl with a spectator. This is how often the BCB gets it wrong both internally and outwardly. The country's richest and most powerful sporting federation has struggled to be a professional organisation for decades. Currently it is almost a one-man show, with the administrative side of the BCB led by an acting CEO for more than two years.
If the BCB was a more professional unit with a better track record, the public might have reacted more approvingly to Shakib's punishment. Because the BCB cannot be called that, it seems as though an unfair organisation has punished an employee who has given them trouble. If the BCB was better managed and had managed the players better, the situation with Shakib would not have deteriorated. Had he been managed properly from the time he emerged as a star, Shakib would have been aware of an authority over his head, much like he is when he goes abroad to play under various management structures.
Shakib is certainly not the first sportsperson in Bangladesh to have an ego clash with a coach or any other authority figure, and he isn't going to be the last. For a long time now, the BCB has been criticised for not managing talented players better, but they could have been forgiven for a lack of experience in this regard until Shakib arrived. Mohammad Ashraful could also have been handled better but that is a story for another time. The decision to deny Shakib NOCs for the next 18 months is harsh, a restraint of trade. There is some doubt about how long the BCB can enforce this, since a certain franchise in a certain tournament run by a certain board might come knocking soon, asking for its overseas player.
Shakib has his shortcomings too. He has been involved in a pile of off-field incidents, particularly over the last year. He has always been outspoken, be it standing up to question the then BCB president Mustafa Kamal or when he chose to question former players and Bangladesh fans. Some in the BCB treat Shakib like a ticking timebomb, always avoiding long conversations lest they turn sour. Whether he is becoming too big for Bangladesh cricket is a legitimate question, but given how popular cricket is here, a player of his calibre with all the celebrity trappings was bound to arrive sooner or later.
What has usually worked in Shakib's favour is his on-field performance. In Tests, he is the team's highest run-scorer and wicket-taker in matches played since his debut, and in ODIs the highest run-scorer and second highest wicket-taker. Shakib has made all-round contributions to three Test wins, and his batting average in ODI victories jumps to nearly 53 from a career figure of 34.86. He has remained not out in 15 out of 20 successful chases. With the ball, he has taken at least two wickets in half of those 56 ODI wins.
Shakib is revered among his team-mates, many of whom see him as a model professional. Many of the younger lot have referred to him as their idol. He has achieved more in the last eight years than any Bangladesh cricketer, but has been known to be frustrated with the system at home, particularly after his stint at Worcestershire, where he experienced a proper first-class cricket structure for possibly the first time in his life.
Those who know him talk of a young man who feels he is misunderstood, a victim of being too frank, undiplomatic on occasions. Shakib is said to be extremely organised - hence his anger when asked to change travel plans while en route to Barbados from Dhaka earlier this month, which led to the entire furore. He is also known to have a short temper: In October 2010, in the middle of his breakthrough innings, Shakib got so frustrated with a spectator not moving away from the sightscreen in Mirpur that he ran all the way down to the boundary and threatened to hit him. Bangladesh won the game against New Zealand, and all was forgotten and forgiven, but a slap on the wrist at the time might have been helpful.
Shakib has shown he can rise above the challenges faced by the lowest-ranked Test team and occupy the No 1 ranking for allrounders for long periods. It is easy to paint him in an unfavourable hue, but he is unique to Bangladesh cricket and should have been treated sensibly. Instead the BCB top brass at various times have either indulged him or given him the boot, never quite managing the balancing act. Over the last few days there has been an air of inevitability that the BCB will shorten the ban on Shakib, but so far they haven't even given him the official papers.
Shakib's passion to play for his country and his steady rise as a globetrotting T20 commodity could spur him to find ways to get out of the suspension. The coming days could see the making of a more rounded individual who is more aware of the expectations of him. Then again, the question remains: will he be able to show restraint the next time he is provoked?
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84