July 16, 2011

Wearing the burden lightly

Carrying a weak and inexperienced team and struggling to deal with the pressure of expectations aren't easy, but Bangladesh's captain manages to do so and remain upbeat

I meet Shakib Al Hasan on a warm July day in London, at an event organised by former Bangladesh Under-19 coach Shahidul Alam for the charity Capital Kids Cricket. The venue is Stepney Green School where the majority of students are of Bangladeshi heritage. The playground is awash with excited faces as Shakib makes his entrance.

Bangladesh's captain is returning to Dhaka next week, and while his stint at Worcestershire has been short, he tells me he has enjoyed his time on the county scene. "Last year I played mainly four-day and Pro40 cricket for Worcester. This year I am playing mainly Twenty20 cricket. But because I've been here before I've been able to adapt quickly to the conditions."

Have the six months of non-stop cricket (straight from the World Cup to the IPL, then England) been fatiguing? "There are positives and negatives," Shakib says. "On the downside, if you're not playing well there's no time to work on your game. But on the upside if you are performing well you can keep your form going".

He has mixed feelings about his performances for the Kolkata Knight Riders in the IPL. "I enjoyed my time in the IPL. Bangladesh and India have a similar culture, language and conditions so it was almost like playing at home. I think I bowled well. I didn't get many chances with the bat, but when I did bat I thought I had one good game and one not-so-good game."

When I ask about his team-mates at Worcester and Kolkata, he responds with a smile and says that there is a great dressing-room atmosphere in both camps, though if he had to choose he would count Manoj Tiwary at Kolkata and Moeen Ali at Worcester among his best friends.

In an age of increasing player power, I am surprised to learn that Shakib was not consulted on the appointment of the new coach. All the same, he is impressed with Stuart Law's credentials. "He has played county cricket in England and domestic cricket in Australia, so he understands what players need to do to perform. His experience with Sri Lanka too will be invaluable."

Shakib's admiration for Law's predecessor however, remains undimmed. "I think Jamie Siddons was a good batting coach and the boys really warmed to him. He was also a very hard worker."

Bangladesh's next assignment is a tricky tour of Zimbabwe, which includes one Test match. "In terms of results, obviously we want to win all the games," Shakib says, "although we know it won't be easy playing in their conditions. Also, we haven't played a Test match in over a year, so that's a concern. But then Zimbabwe have not played a Test in almost six years."

He is confident the Bangladesh squad are training hard in Mirpur under the guidance of Sarwar Imran, who has the reins until Law formally joins Bangladesh in Zimbabwe. "Sarwar Imran has coached the national team before, and has been the A team and Academy coach, so he has plenty of experience. The boys are in good hands".

Among the new players named in the preliminary squad training in Mirpur to face Zimbabwe are the likes of batsman Shuvagato Hom and spinner Elias Sunny, whom Shakib knows from domestic cricket. "They've performed consistently for the last two or three seasons. They are good lads and if they get an opportunity they will want to make an impression," he says.

He is generally happy with the squad that has been selected although he laments the loss of fast bowler Shahadat Hossain. "Shahadat was doing well in Test matches, but unfortunately he got injured. Without him I'm not sure who our third seamer will be. There are a few guys around - if they get the chance they will do well. Nazmul [Hossain], for instance, has been with the national team for the last four or five years. He's an experienced guy and could step in."

Shakib also thinks Robiul Islam could present a good option, despite a nervy debut against England last year "What I like about Robiul is that he can swing the ball. Hopefully he'll learn from the experience [against England] and do well in the future."

"We don't have a large player pipeline in Bangladesh, so we have to stick to those who can contribute to the team. I think that's the right way to do it"

When it comes to extending the talent pool under the new coach, Shakib advocates a pragmatic approach. "We don't have a large [player] pipeline in Bangladesh, so we have to stick to those who can contribute to the team. I think that's the right way to do it. We're a very young side, so we're bound to make mistakes. The main thing is to work hard and to improve."

At first-class level, cricketers in Bangladesh need to play more cricket and on good wickets, he says. "That will greatly improve the standard of our cricket."

"All the guys who have played for the last two to three years have played well. They've contributed, and the main thing is, they're always working on their game." Shakib, perhaps predictably, names Tamim Iqbal as the cricketer who has improved the most, but he reserves high praise for Imrul Kayes and Shafiul Islam.

On his personal ambitions, Shakib is circumspect. "I don't like to set big goals for myself. I like to set small goals, series by series. There are some areas I can always improve."

World Cup apart, Shakib thinks Bangladesh have generally improved over the last two or three years. "We have been very competitive, especially at home," he says. That view will no doubt be put to the test when West Indies arrive to tour Bangladesh later this year.

Looking further afield, at issues in cricket in general, Shakib says he supports the Decision Referral System, which he thinks will improve the overall standard of umpiring and benefit weaker teams, who often bear the brunt of bad decisions. "It makes it much fairer. Umpires are less likely to make mistakes [with it]," he says.

Shakib believes the ICC's move to ensure there is no political interference in cricket governance is a positive step; an interesting position, given that to date the president of the Bangladesh Cricket Board has always been a government appointee.

After a quick net session with some schoolchildren, it is time for Shakib to leave. As he says his goodbyes, I am struck by how young he still is - an indicator of how quickly he has risen, from a virtually unknown U-19 player to one of the world's best allrounders.

Cricket is the only major sport Bangladesh plays at the highest level, and the expectations on Shakib and his team are immense. Those burdens, he thinks, had their part to play in Bangladesh's World Cup collapses against South Africa and West Indies. "We didn't handle the pressure well; that was the only problem. The expectations were too high and the media, especially, contributed to this."

Still, he goes about his business with a calm assurance; the responsibility sits well upon his shoulders. The looks on the faces of the students of Stepney Green reflect it.

Capital Kids Cricket is a charity that teaches and promotes cricket in inner London state schools

Abu Choudhury is a regular contributor to Banglacricket.com. He lives in London

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • M_Rakibul_Islam on July 17, 2011, 14:18 GMT

    Who can tell he is only 24? His wise & matured thoughts are as a Great Cricketer of around 35 yrs of age. May b he'll b greater than Vettori of last decade. The first world class iconic player of his country is not only a good cricketer but also a matured captain. Ya , he has a body of 24 but a brain of 30+! Now BCB should assist him & his teammates as well as other promising young cricketers more & more. I think they should follow the Sri lanka of mid 90s. Then BD can b as strong as top 5 cricket nations.

  • QTS_ on July 17, 2011, 3:47 GMT

    Against Zimbabwe in the Test match, the top three of Bangladesh (Tamim, Imrul, Junaid) will probably fare well, as seen in England last year. Zimbabwe's bowling attack presumably cannot sustain its venom over the Test match length. If so, the Bangladesh middle order (Shakib, Ashraful, Mushfiq et al) will get an opportunity to bat Zimbabwe out of the match. On the contrary, Zimbabwe may be able to bat long if sent in first, perhaps because of Bangladeshi pace impotency. Taibu in particular could be hard to dislodge. Fragility in the Zimbabwe middle order could be exploited.

  • QTS_ on July 17, 2011, 3:38 GMT

    In recent times, Shakib's bowling has been significantly productive. In the IPL and English T20, his wicket-per-match has been impressively high. In ODI's, he appears to have a knack for capturing wickets towards the end of the innings. Subsequently, despite mammoth scores against Bangladesh in the recent ODI's, Shakib's statistics have remained decent.

  • dummy4fb on July 16, 2011, 19:20 GMT

    Regardless of Bangladesh's recent record, it's a measure of Shakib's impact as a player and captain that for the first time in 11 years they are 'expected' to win. There's Tamim, Junaid, Mushfiq and Shafiul. But Shakib is the fulcrum around which the team revolves. His bowls with intelligence, bats to seize control and leads with calm when public expectations are maddening. Most of all he never shirks away from making an honest judgment of the team and individual performances. In that respect he's much like Kapil Dev or Richard Hadlee who carried the hopes of a weaker team and made them a formidable unit by leading from the front and sheer will. Hope, by the time Shakib hangs up his boots he too is remembered in the same vein by cricket Bangladesh. And he's just 24!

  • Praxis on July 16, 2011, 14:21 GMT

    @Meety, this is probably the second or third time I've seen you mention Farhad Reza's name. To tell you the truth I'm quite surprised that he caught your attention, he's a very good prospect indeed[Rajshahi division rocks!!]. Pity that damn ICL incident did so much damage to our team. Very few people other than Bangladeshis realize that. Nafees will get his fair run, don't worry about that. A batsman of his quality can't be ignored for too long. As for the sporting wickets and breeding good quick bowlers, its little more complicated. We still don't have well built & tall bowlers who would be able to bowl long spells, & as you said these low & slow pitches means that the captains will only let the seamers bowl at most 10 overs each. Let's wait for the next generation. About Shakib, I love the fact that he doesn't get the proper recognition he deserves, so he'll simply keep improving. Also being a spinner he won't be injured too much, we'll get to see him play for a long time hopefully.

  • roneydaredevil on July 16, 2011, 12:14 GMT

    I dont think the topic of the article was right, its not well written either...these r all like formal speeches...the writer should have asked Shakib about his England life...how he spends time off the field...how he mixes up with the Worcestershire boys...how much he has learnt...future plans abt Bangladesh team & himself....actually, the writer could have gone a bit more deep...the things he have written here are nothing new...

  • Praxis on July 16, 2011, 9:59 GMT

    The pressure on the Bangla players in world cup was for some different reason, perhaps our whole nation's attitude towards this game is a little different than the outsiders realize. For us cricket is the pleasant diversion from all the unpleasant and unwanted political, social or economical issues. Very few things gives us more pride or joy than reading the success of our young team on newspapers. Then again this exceeded passion has led us to see one of the low points in cricket history[...the one after WI match] We have faith in this team & this captain, though not in the politics infected cricket board or the officials. 10 years have passed, two generations of cricketers have played and gone, we still have this very inexperienced team, let's see where it goes...After all not even two decades have passed since cricket took the place of soccer as the most popular sport.

  • Meety on July 16, 2011, 6:00 GMT

    I really like Shakib - I rate him as a person as highly as I rate Sangakarra. Maybe its an optimistic view - but the Bangas I feel are on the verge of a considerable improvement in their on-field results. Shakib is right - the pitches need to be more sporting - the best pace bowlers in the country rarely bowl more than about 10 overs in a 1st class innings. It appears anybody who can roll the arm over (spin)can expect a bowl regularly during he season. This means the batsmen are sheltered against spin & that spinners don't work too hard for their wickets. Hom & Sunny statistically look like really good prospects. I'd like to see Reza & Nafees get a fair run back in the national set up. Reza would be excellent in ODIs, & Nafees for all 3 formats!

  • mits6 on July 16, 2011, 4:24 GMT

    bangladesh is not so weak team and in 5 years they will become pretty good as some permanent members in team mature. Regarding their performance in the world cup, they build pressure around them and it all shattered in pressure situations. The only reason i see is the lack of experience which helps to keep calm in difficult situations. Talented players were involved more in off field disractions and replying everybody (Tamim especially) about everything which they didn,t need to do.Anyway best wishes to BD team.

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