<
>

Shakib's brilliance, Mashrafe's mental strength raise Bangladesh's semi-final hopes

play
Hussey: Shakib is Player of the Tournament so far (1:27)

Michael Hussey and Murali Kartik discuss whether Shakib Al Hasan is among the greatest allrounders of all time (1:27)

Many cricketers emerge from otherwise glorious careers with significant asterisks against their names. Some rule the roost in certain familiar circumstances, but fail to cut through when outside their comfort zones. Others produce outstanding performances when the world, for whatever reason, is not paying full attention, but fail to match those standards when the stage - and the stakes - are at their highest.

WATCH on Hotstar - Highlights of Afghanistan v Bangladesh (India only)

An exceptionally elite few manage to master both the conditions and the context; fewer still with both bat and ball at the same time. Whatever happens for the rest of his already remarkable career, Shakib Al Hasan will be able to look back on the English summer of 2019, and say to himself, "I nailed it".

Never mind the peaks that Shakib has scaled this summer, en route to a raft of allround records that have never before been reached in World Cup cricket. The magnitude of his efforts are perhaps best measured by the shallowness of his troughs along the way.

In six games to date, arguably his least significant return has been a run-a-ball 41 against Australia - an effort that nevertheless set his side on course for a World Cup-best total of 333 for 8.

ALSO READ - Isam: Bangladesh's batting plans lacked flexibility and ruthlessness

The simplicity of his methods has defied the sort of no-holds-barred analysis that has arguably stripped bare the threat of his Sunrisers Hyderabad team-mate, Rashid Khan, who enjoyed a return to form on this same strip against India but was dealt another blank today in the midst of a canny batting performance. Shakib was to the fore, of course, with his fifth fifty-plus score in six innings, even if his successful overturn of a first-ball lbw appeal was a massive moment in the game.

With the ball in his own hand, however, Shakib's menace has grown with the weight of every new performance. Today was a classic predator's haul of wickets, the springing of a trap beautifully laid by a Bangladesh side who out-thought their brawnier opponents by daring them to have their usual early dart with the bat, then - when it failed to materialise - suffocated them in an ever-rising run-rate.

By the time he returned for the 25th over to embark on his second and most telling spell, Shakib still had eight overs left up his sleeve. It was the surest sign of the control that Bangladesh had managed to exert in the run-chase, even if, on the face of it, it didn't look as though Afghanistan had been faring too badly.

And sure enough, 15 Shakib deliveries later, Afghanistan lost two wickets in three balls, in return for two meagre runs, and all their hard work began to unravel.

WATCH on Hotstar - Shakib's five-wicket haul (India only)

There is, however, one aspect of his allround game that Shakib has, perhaps wisely, chosen to leave to one side. Remarkably, it's already been a decade since he first captained his country at the age of 22 - and in spite of the burdens that come with such a role, his record, both as a player and leader, stands up to a reasonable level of scrutiny.

But reason can be in short supply when emotions start to run high among Bangladesh's supporters. With that in mind, arguably the unsung hero in this latest snap of Shakib's spin-bowling trap was Mashrafe Mortaza, whose canny control of his team's tempo in the field included another act of injury-defying burglary with the new ball.

Mashrafe's first spell of 5-0-27-0 was exactly as you've come to expect. Creaky, agonising, all stiff limbs and hobbles - no two approaches to the crease identical as he relied on muscle memory to plough out his line and length, forever inviting the disrespect that never quite came his way.

By the time he limped back to mid-off to resume his conducting duties, Afghanistan were 45 for 0 after nine overs - steadily settling into their long haul, but all the time with the knowledge that their real trial, 30 overs of high-class spin, had yet to begin.

Sure enough, when Shakib replaced Mashrafe at the Pavilion End, he struck for the first time with his fifth delivery, to serve notice of the torment that would follow.

What Afghanistan might have given for some old-school insolence from Mohammad Shahzad, a man whom this Bangladesh team fears for his refusal to stand on ceremony. Instead, the courteous opening from Gulbadin Naib and Rahmat Shah played directly into Bangladesh's hands.

There's no earthly reason why Mashrafe is still getting away with it. Except, of course, he has been getting away with it for a decade or more already, by channelling an extraordinary mental strength into a body that has been giving up the ghost for longer than most of his team-mates have been playing the game.

When he returned for the 32nd over, his already random run-up had been reduced to a handful of paces, but the arc of his body still just about did the needful, limiting his rattled opponents to just four runs as Asghar Afghan and Samiullah Shenwari sought to play themselves back in. Two balls later, Shakib was on hand to capitalise once again, picking up his fourth wicket to all but close out the contest.

There is an extraordinary depth of World Cup experience in Bangladesh's team. In Shakib, Tamim Iqbal and Mushfiqur Rahim, they possess three star players in their absolute prime, all of whom were key performers way back at the 2007 World Cup, the tournament at which they first stated their credentials for the future by ousting India in that famous win in Trinidad. Mahmudullah - the hero of Adelaide 2015, and whose refusal to leave the scene after picking up a calf injury was Mashrafe-esque in its perversity - scarcely ranks below these men, having debuted only months after that 2007 campaign and ridden the emotions of their home campaign four years later.

Mashrafe, however, brings experience of a different variety. He is a survivor of horrific injury and cricketing insult. At Chittagong in October 2003, during the second Test against Michael Vaughan's England, he crumpled in his followthrough with a shattering knee injury, the like of which has ruined far lesser careers. That he is still playing for his country 16 years later is ludicrous and brilliant.

But, moreover, Mashrafe was there at the 2003 World Cup, the absolute nadir of Bangladesh's life as full-member nation. In particular, he was part of the side that slumped to a miserable defeat against Canada in Durban, when Austin Codrington, a dreadlocked plumber, dealt them a humiliation over and above anything that they'd been receiving on the Test field.

There was a time, not so long ago, when Bangladesh would have seen this match against Afghanistan as their World Cup final, just as their win over Scotland in 1999 proved to be, or that Canada clash was meant to be.

But instead, they have just moved to within a point of the semi-final placings, with a crunch contest looming next week against India at Lord's - a team that they know how to challenge on the global stage, if not always to beat. And if Shakib's iridescent stardom has shown the way for his side, it's been Mashrafe's intelligent but barely mobile captaincy that has somehow brought up the rear.