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Young, bubbly and vicious

Bangladesh's fastest bowler is a nice young lad who likes nothing better than to knock a batsman's block off

Brydon Coverdale
Brydon Coverdale

Grunt work: Shahadat has dealt out bruises and taken wickets in about equal measure © AFP
The first man to take a one-day international hat-trick for Bangladesh almost repeated the feat this week. Shahadat Hossain rates his three from three balls against Zimbabwe in 2006 as the highlight of his career. It would have been overtaken quicker than a broken-down Kombi van had he reproduced the deed against Australia.
The moment came in the 50th over of the first ODI in Darwin last Saturday. Shahadat crashed the ball into Cameron White's off stump from the third delivery and next ball had Mitchell Johnson caught and bowled top-edging an attempted hook. The problem was the batsmen crossed while the ball was in the air, so instead of targeting the debutant Brett Geeves, Shahadat was forced to try for the milestone against Michael Hussey.
Sitting on the boundary of the Marrara Cricket Ground after a lengthy session of bowling drills on Friday, a fidgeting, impossibly effervescent Shahadat reflected happily on the opportunity. "With Hussey there I had no chance," he said.
True, Hussey did easily deal with the hat-trick ball, nudging it from outside off towards deep cover. But Shahadat got the next best thing; Hussey tried to slog the next one and lost his off stump, giving the bowler three wickets from four balls. The whole scenario brought back memories for Shahadat, whose triple-strike against Zimbabwe is etched in his mind.
"I enjoyed the hat-trick most. Nothing compares to it," he said. "I thought I was in dreamland. Hat-tricks are taken by Wasim Akram, bowlers like that."
He's no Akram just yet but it's successes like that, and his remarkable 6 for 27 in a Test against South Africa this year, that prove he should be known for more than just his trademark delivery grunt. The strange noise, more suited to a tennis player, comes just before he releases the ball and hints at near total exhaustion, which is at odds with his seemingly boundless energy.
Is it offputting for the batsmen? Who knows. Perhaps it is only coincidence that an inordinate number of players misread him and suffer extravagant blows to the head. Even Ricky Ponting felt the full force of Shahadat's bounce in the Fatullah Test of 2006 when he took his eyes off the ball and copped one on the helmet. "He is the best player of the pull and hook shot," Shahadat said, "so that gave me a lot of confidence."
It was not a first for Shahadat, who has been injuring batsmen for a decade. As a teenager Shahadat developed a reputation in his home town, where he was the most fearsome wielder of a taped tennis ball. He was the quickest young bowler in the district by far, and his rivals would head home with ugly bruises and swelling after facing his vicious deliveries.
His father, a banker, decided that if Shahadat was going to spend all his time playing cricket anyway, he might as well try his luck at a junior training camp. It was there that he first picked up a proper cricket ball, although because he had no running shoes he would tear in off his long run-up with bare feet.
A couple of years and at least one pair of cricket boots later, Shahadat was training with the Bangladesh Institute of Sports in a set of nets adjacent to those of the national team. When he was invited to send down some deliveries to the Test batsmen, Shahadat duly gained notice by thumping Hannan Sarkar and Mohammad Rafique in the head and hands.
The Under-19 captain of the day was less fortunate. Shahadat struck him so cleanly on the side of the head with a bouncer that the screws from the other side of the helmet flew out. The batsman was in severe pain. "There was blood everywhere," a smiling Shahadat said.
Shahadat once struck a batsman so cleanly on the side of the head with a bouncer that the screws from the other side of the helmet flew out
Since then, the 190-centimetre bowler has developed into comfortably the quickest in Bangladesh and has been clocked at up to 148kph. Importantly, he not only intimidates batsmen, he also takes wickets. His most memorable victim was Ponting, who he trapped lbw in the Fatullah Test, but his 6 for 27 against South Africa in Mirpur this year was a breakthrough effort.
"The year has gone pretty well for me," Shahadat said. "The six wickets against South Africa was one of the highlights. In that series I didn't actually think that I was bowling to [Graeme] Smith or [Jacques] Kallis or anything. I just tried to bowl in the right areas."
Nicknamed Rajib - he says he has no idea what it means, his sister gave him the title - he has not been at his best during the Australia series, where he has leaked a few too many runs. Perhaps the absence of one of his fast-bowling role models, Brett Lee, has robbed him of inspiration.
"I did bowl very well in New Zealand and against South Africa back home prior to this series," he said. "I'm trying to repeat everything I have done on those tours; it's just not happening at the moment.
"This tour is very important for Bangladesh cricket overall because if you do well against Australia everyone takes note. The players gain a lot of confidence. I've targeted this series but so far it has not happened for me."
Lucky for Australia.

Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo