News Analysis

Shakib's genius of compartmentalising his life on and off the field

Infuriating, inscrutable and ingenious in equal measure, where does one draw the line with the Bangladesh star?

Mohammad Isam
Mohammad Isam
Shakib Al Hasan is never far from the limelight  •  Associated Press

Shakib Al Hasan is never far from the limelight  •  Associated Press

Shakib Al Hasan waits until the 35th over of the Bangladesh innings during Saturday's first ODI against Ireland, to alter the course of the game. Offspinner Harry Tector comes from around the wicket, Shakib goes down to sweep the first ball, from outside off stump, for a boundary. Next, he lofts him over cover, then sweeps again and cuts one past point, for three more fours. Shakib ends the over by lofting Tector over long-off, for the fifth four. Bangladesh's innings turns the corner decisively towards a 300-plus total. Shakib hurtles towards a century.
He doesn't get to it, but leaves a big enough impact for the team's score to balloon to 338 for 8, their highest ODI total. Shakib then breaks Ireland's 60-run opening stand before the other Bangladesh bowlers take advantage of the breakthrough and the hosts pick up their biggest win in the format, too.
During the innings break, BCB's cricket operations chairman Jalal Yunus answers questions about Shakib's whereabouts between the England and Ireland series. This is where Shakib divides opinions.
Specifically, Shakib's appearance in Dubai to open a store is in the spotlight. Bangladesh's security authorities have claimed that Shakib ignored their warning about the owner being under investigation by the police in a murder case. Yunus said they will look into the matter if this "commercial activity" contradicts the BCB's contract with him, but they were aware that Shakib would join training on March 17 in Sylhet.
A week before that, Shakib went to inaugurate another store, in Chattogram, after the third T20I against England. He had just led Bangladesh to a historic 3-0 whitewash against the world champions. Shakib was at the top of his game throughout the series. Hours after the third game on March 9, he had to jostle through a large crowd to get to his car after opening the store. In the melee, someone tried to pick his cap. Footage shows that Shakib not only grabbed the cap back, but tried to smack the person a few times.
In January, Shakib made strong comments about the BPL that no player, coach or team owner has ever dared to make against the tournament. He followed that up by attacking the umpires twice in the first week, only being punished for the second offence. Shakib ended the BPL with 375 runs and 10 wickets.
"He stays in his bubble [on the field]. He has a generally very positive mentality. He doesn't look back. It is purely a mental skill. It cannot be taught or coached."
Nazmul Abedeen Fahim, Shakib's coach since his school days
There are more instances of Shakib smoothly bouncing between great performances, giant controversies and scandals. He compartmentalises the two major aspects of his life: on and off the field. The two live dangerously close to each other, but it has left many baffled as to just how he manages to keep the two apart.
Nazmul Abedeen Fahim, who has worked closely with Shakib since his school days and most recently was his coach with Fortune Barishal at the BPL, said that the way Shakib separates the on-field and off-the-field aspects of life, is entirely the cricketer's doing. He cannot be coached in this aspect.
"It is quite a surprising aspect," Fahim said. "He probably puts himself into a bubble which keeps out the external factors. He has this in him. He can switch at the last moment. But once he is in the field, he is at his best from nowhere. We have seen it many times. He stays in his bubble. He has a generally very positive mentality. He doesn't look back. It is purely a mental skill. It cannot be taught or coached."
Last year, Shakib's commercial interests and decision around (not) touring certain countries caused much friction between him and the BCB. On both occasions, he had to relent. Shakib also withdrew from the sponsorship of a betting company (masked as a sports website) after the BCB pulled him up. This happened before the 2022 Asia Cup and T20 World Cup season, when he was about to be named the new captain. Bangladesh had their best T20 World Cup to date, with Shakib leading the side into a new direction in the format.
In March 2022, Shakib initially refused to tour South Africa, but after a few days of drama, he walked back on the decision.
Two years ago, Shakib kicked and threw down the stumps in an extraordinary outburst during a Dhaka Premier League (domestic one-day competition) match. It didn't take him too long to bounce back from this incident, too.
One of the reasons why Shakib recovers quickly from these incidents is because of how leniently the BCB has treated him over the years. Only last year did the board really get him to tour when he refused to, or prohibit him from signing a commercial partnership that was against the board's policy. Even so, for the stump throwing incident, he was banned for only three games. On many occasions over the years, the BCB has reduced Shakib's punishment, or ignored his controversies altogether.
It's just as likely that that his tryst with the Dubai store owner will first be swept under the carpet, and then forgotten by the public and media. If that happens, it will serve as yet another example of Shakib getting away with hardly a slap on the wrist. Or, is it another example of Shakib expertly compartmentalising his life on and off the field?
He never lets one interfere with the other. As a great allrounder, Shakib often covers for a batting failure with a bowling masterclass. When it concerns his off-the-field incidents, he smoothly covers it with an on-field performance that takes away everyone's attention.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84