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Captain Shanto makes all the right moves even as runs dry up

He has taken tough, unpopular calls, and used his bowlers brilliantly, but Bangladesh need their young leader to get out of a prolonged batting slump

Mohammad Isam
Mohammad Isam
As Bangladesh stand one win away from a Super Eight place in the T20 World Cup 2024, their captain Najmul Hossain Shanto is a subject of mixed feelings.
He has led Bangladesh superbly. He has been proactive in his on-field leadership. His handling of bowling changes has been spot-on, which is hard to do in three consecutive games at a T20 World Cup, and he has not shied away from taking tough but unpopular decisions on and off the field.
Shanto's decision to give Shakib Al Hasan just the one over against South Africa was akin to heresy in Bangladesh cricket. It was a little like Rahul Dravid declaring the India innings with Sachin Tendulkar unbeaten on 194. It was called the "declaration of independence" at the time, a loud proclamation of a team-first attitude. Shanto giving Shakib just one over was a widely debated call, and a major one for a Bangladesh captain about to turn 26. His captaincy has been a key component of Bangladesh's comeback from a nightmare start to their tour of North America.
Shanto's batting form, however, is a cause for concern. His three innings at this World Cup so far have brought him scores of 7, 14 and 1, and he has not scored a half-century in his last 16 innings across international formats, averaging 13.43 in this period. His form has worsened since his arrival in North America in mid-May: he has passed 14 just once in five T20I innings over the course of Bangladesh's 2-1 defeat to USA last month and this World Cup.
Shanto's North America tour began with his getting stumped off the USA part-timer Steven Taylor as he looked to hit his way out of trouble with Bangladesh stuck at 51 for 2 in the eighth over. He looked in better shape in the next innings, scoring 36 off 34 balls before a mix-up with Towhid Hridoy got him run out.
In Bangladesh's first match at the T20 World Cup, Shanto scratched around for 12 balls before hitting a drive straight to cover. It was a similar story against South Africa: he scratched around for 22 balls before he got rushed by Anrich Nortje, caught at short square-leg trying to pull a 146kph delivery. Shanto had been dismissed in similar manner against India in the warm-up game in New York.
Against Netherlands, Shanto reverse-swept offspinner Aryan Dutt straight to slip. He was facing just his third ball.
The shot brought to mind a comment in a recent interview from Shanto's club coach, the former Bangladesh captain Khaled Mahmud.
"He [Shanto] is a confident guy, but consistency is becoming a hurdle for him," Mahmud had said. "I spoke to him recently. I told him that it looks like you are in a lot of hurry in the middle. It is not written anywhere that you have to hit a six every ball in T20s."
Away from the batting crease, however, Shanto is a completely different character. He keeps his calm in public, and smiles a lot in the field. He enjoys his teammates' success. It takes a strong character to survive the high-pressure and lonely world of Bangladesh captaincy, and Shanto has shown character off the field too, sticking to his guns even when taking unpopular decisions.
He is, for instance, part of the decision-making group that has kept picking Tanzim Hasan Sakib over Shoriful Islam, who has been fit since June 8, and Tanzim has vindicated this with his new-ball displays.
The highlight of Shanto's captaincy, though, has been his handling of legspinner Rishad Hossain. After the South Africa match, coach Chandika Hathurusinghe praised Shanto for risking Rishad in the 19th over against a hungry David Miller. Rishad got the left-hander out first ball. Hathurusinghe said the credit for the wicket should go not just to the bowler but the captain too.
He used Rishad smartly against the Netherlands too, keeping faith in him even after he went for 14 in his first over. Rishad rewarded Bangladesh with three wickets in two overs when Shanto gave him the 15th and 18th overs. A Bangladeshi legspinner getting important wickets is a sight for sore eyes, and so is a Bangladeshi captain trusting the legspinner to bowl the big overs.
Shanto is also Bangladesh's best all-round fielder. He makes innumerable stops in the covers and midwicket when he is in the circle, and he doesn't shy away from fielding in the deep in the death overs. Shanto communicates well with the bowlers even when he is in the deep, sometimes relying on his throat, and at other times running all the way to the bowler before heading back to his fielding position.
Shanto has also shown he can get out of his own comfort zone to help his team-mates. When Soumya Sarkar failed in the first game against Sri Lanka, Bangladesh replaced him with the middle-order batter Jaker Ali. Someone had to move up the order to open in Soumya's place, and with Litton Das having scored runs at No. 3 against Sri Lanka, Shanto stepped up, allowing Litton to stay in his position.
Fans, however, remain skeptical about Shanto's batting form. He hasn't yet adjusted to the new batting position, and his shot against Netherlands has drawn heavy flak. Yet, it seems like Shanto is equipped to handle the frustration at not scoring runs and the criticism he gets for it. At least that's what his strong captaincy and brilliant fielding suggest. That's all the public needs to see.
Shanto isn't the first Bangladesh captain to go through a lean run at a World Cup. Two of their better campaigns, in fact, were helmed by struggling captains: Habibul Bashar averaged 13.12 across eight innings at the 2007 ODI World Cup, when Bangladesh made the Super Eight stage, and Mashrafe Mortaza took one wicket for 361 runs in 2019, when they pulled off memorable wins over South Africa and West Indies.
The BCB has previously taken rash decisions based on a captain's performance at a World Cup, so it will be in Shanto's best interests - as well as that of Bangladesh's struggling top order - for him to get back among the runs as soon as possible.
It's important that he does this, because he's ticked every other box. In him, Bangladesh may have found a captain ready to move the team into the future while shedding the baggage of the past, and do so with a smile on his face.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84