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Bangladesh's famous five set to complete a special century

Shakib Al Hasan, Mushfiqur Rahim, Tamim Iqbal, Mashrafe Mortaza and Mahmudullah are on the brink of playing their 100th international match as a quintet

Mohammad Isam
Mohammad Isam
Tamim Iqbal and Shakib Al Hasan strung together a match-winning partnership, West Indies v Bangladesh, 2nd T20I, Lauderhill, August 4, 2018

Tamim Iqbal and Shakib Al Hasan strung together a match-winning partnership  •  AFP

Bangladesh's second ODI against West Indies on December 11 is set to be the 100th international match to feature the quintet of Shakib Al Hasan, Tamim Iqbal, Mashrafe Mortaza, Mushfiqur Rahim and Mahmudullah. This is hardly rare in world cricket - there have been 64 such quintets - but it is a unique milestone given that the Bangladesh Cricket Board, team management and selectors have not always given players, especially seniors, a long rope.
Shakib is the best cricketer Bangladesh has ever produced, the superstar allrounder reaching new heights every season. Tamim holds most of the team's batting records, having transformed himself, through changed fitness habits, from a fiery young opener to Bangladesh's top-order rock, and has performed consistently since 2015. Mushfiqur, with the most overseas Test hundreds for Bangladesh, is the middle-order enforcer. Mahmudullah has excelled in niche roles, be it as the designated death-overs hitter in the shorter formats, or in the Test middle order with two tough hundreds recently.
Mashrafe, the oldest of the five, has overcome career-threatening injuries to remain the team's leading fast bowler. Since 2015, he has also shaped the side's transformation, as a shrewd leader in limited-overs cricket and an excellent communicator in the dressing room.
Since Mahmudullah's debut in July 2007, the group has regularly played together. It's no coincidence that Bangladesh have progressed rapidly in this period, with milestones like the quarter-final appearance in the 2015 World Cup, ODI series wins over India, Pakistan and South Africa in 2015, and this year's limited-overs series wins over West Indies.
Shakib, Tamim, Mushfiqur and Mahmudullah have also helped engineer Test wins over Australia, England and Sri Lanka over the last two years, and the recent 2-0 win against West Indies at home.
When they came together, Bangladesh had only begun winning regularly against teams like Kenya and Zimbabwe, with the odd flash-in-the-pan performance against the bigger teams. Until December 2006, Bangladesh had lost 114 of their 147 international matches since gaining Test status. The side appeared unsettled until former captain Faruque Ahmed's first stint as chief selector, and Dav Whatmore, during his tenure as coach between 2003 and 2007, understood the need for a core group.
The five players were crucial during Jamie Siddons' stint as head coach, particularly during the transition period in 2008, after several established Bangladesh cricketers played in the unauthorised ICL T20 tournament. In 2010, Shakib rose to become the team's best cricketer with a one-man show in the 4-0 ODI series win over New Zealand, achieved despite the absence of Tamim and Mashrafe, who were injured.
After a tough 2011, the quintet nearly won Bangladesh the 2012 Asia Cup before helping beat West Indies 3-2 in a home ODI series the same year. In the following year, they blanked New Zealand 3-0 at home.
Then came a year of horrors: before they trounced Zimbabwe at home late in the year, they lost 22 of their international matches in 2014, while winning just two.
Mashrafe took over as ODI and T20 captain, and Bangladesh were more consistent in 2015, with a good World Cup and four ODI series wins at home. In 2017, they made it to the Champions Trophy semi-final, and this year won ODI and T20I series in West Indies. Mashrafe has not played T20Is since March 2017 but in the 50 matches the group has played together since January 2015 (prior to the ongoing ODI series), Bangladesh have a win percentage of 54%. In the previous seven years - September 2007 to December 2014 - it was 39.60%.
The quintet's impact is also seen in a more positive and professional dressing-room environment. They have embraced the need to address specifics in both skills and fitness training, and have also influenced the BCB to think differently about its cricketers.
We have to ensure that when we are done playing, the next generation also creates a similar pattern of performance and behaviour. Legacy only happens with action.
Tamim Iqbal
"It is a very special occasion, definitely," Tamim tells ESPNcricinfo, when asked about the milestone of 100 international matches as a quintet. "Five of us have known each other for almost 15 years, and have gone through ups and downs together. I hope we can make the day of the landmark a special one.
"Mashrafe bhai and [Mahmudullah] Riyad bhai are older than Shakib, Mushfiq and me. Three of us have played since our Under-15 days. We share everything. Our relationship is fantastic. I am friends with Mushfiq and Shakib but it is with Riyad bhai and Mashrafe bhai that I spend the most time together. Individually too, we have excellent relations."
Mashrafe said the consistency of the senior players and the understanding in the group made his role as captain easier. "They are all performers so definitely it makes my job easier. Their consistency is great for the team," Mashrafe says. "It is important now that there are more contributions in the team, especially in top tournaments.
"Shakib is an extraordinary talent so he didn't need any explaining of his role. Mushfiq was always a quality player. Tamim and Riyad went through huge changes. With time, they understood how they have to play and perform in international cricket. There wasn't need for much explaining."
In an interview to ESPNcricinfo in September, Mushfiqur said Tamim had helped him simplify his thinking, while Mahmudullah had shown how to thrive away from the limelight.
"Tamim is one of my most favourite players. His transformation is unbelievable," Mushfiqur had said. "His records speak for themselves but I think he has a lot more left to give. He has helped my performance. He has a simple way of thinking about aspects of the game. You will get success if you follow it.
"Riyad bhai has gone through a difficult period, but he has gone on to give Bangladesh big wins in the World Cup and Champions Trophy. He is the sort of personality who likes to do his job in the background. Maybe it is a blessing for him to have less focus on him."
Mahmudullah, who struck twin hundreds in the 2015 World Cup at No. 4 before going on to become Bangladesh's late-overs hitter in T20Is and ODIs, says he draws inspiration from Tamim, Mushfiqur and Shakib.
"I have learned a lot from them," Mahmudullah says. "I notice Tamim's way of thinking or Mushfiq's training methods. I see how Shakib reads the game and goes about his work. I follow how the others are thinking about cricket, and whether my thoughts match with them. All of these things have affected my game."
The goal of the quintet, Tamim says, is to emulate Sri Lanka's golden generation of the 1990s, who laid strong foundations for their successors such as Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara to build on.
"The five players have a huge impact on the team but the next step has to be the reflection on the other players," Tamim says. "We have to leave a legacy, which I feel is a huge thing. Sri Lanka did it with Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene. You can't buy legacy of that quality in the store.
"We have to ensure that when we are done playing, the next generation also creates a similar pattern of performance and behaviour. Legacy only happens with action."
Sri Lanka have nine of the ten longest quintet streaks in international cricket, and 40 such quintets with 100 or more international matches together. The 196 international matches that Marvan Atapattu, Sanath Jayasuriya, Muttiah Muralitharan, Chaminda Vaas and Jayawardene played together between 1996 and 2007 is the most by any quintet. It wasn't just a testament to the number of matches the team played then but also the importance of a core group.
Australia, perhaps surprisingly, have had only one such quintet: Alan Border, David Boon, Dean Jones, Geoff Marsh and Steve Waugh, who played 114 matches together between 1986 and 1992. This was the peak of the rebuilding phase under Border, with the 1987 World Cup and Ashes triumphs in 1989 and 1990-91 as the high points.
Mohammad Azharuddin features in all five of India's 100-plus quintets while South Africa's ten quintets heavily feature Shaun Pollock and Jacques Kallis. Jeff Dujon features in all six of West Indies' quintets. Zimbabwe, meanwhile, have had two 100-plus quintets.
The road ahead for Bangladesh's famous five leads to next year's World Cup but what happens after that is uncertain. For now, they can quietly bump each others' fists knowing that they have done a tremendous job in bringing Bangladesh to a stage many had thought impossible even a decade ago.
Stats inputs by Bharath Seervi

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84