Shakib Al Hasan: 'If I can win the mental game within myself, I can score runs regularly'
'Mindset over physical preparation' for the allrounder as he makes a match-winning 96
There is something maddening about playing against Shakib Al Hasan in a high-pressure game. He gives you nothing. No reactions. No window into his thoughts. No hope. Shakib's stony façade is his first line of defense, and then the rest of him works in calculative movements. His unbeaten 96 against Zimbabwe in the second ODI had all those qualities. There's calmness on the outside, and deep wells of belief in his own ability on the inside. Combining the two, he reads the opposition - a batter, bowler or fielder - better than most around him.
Shakib's ability to transfer pressure back onto the opponent is subtle, but effective. For example, whenever he completes one, two or three runs, he always pretends that he could have had more. Fielders end up rushing, panicking, making mistakes. Same for a bowler. Shakib, meanwhile, attacks and then retreats. He attacks and then retreats and then wins.
Zimbabwe may have thought that they had the second ODI in the bag when Bangladesh were 173 for 7 in the 39th over, chasing 241 runs. Shakib was unbeaten on 63, and Mohammad Saifuddin was the last recognised batter. Shakib soaked up and deflected so much of the pressure that his batting partner was obligated to support the match-winner.
After finishing the chase with a finely cut boundary in the final over, Shakib said he needed to make some mental adjustments ahead of this game. It was a rare peek into a man known for being utterly inscrutable.
"I think the mindset is more important than physical preparation at this level," Shakib said. "I think I was thinking too much. I stopped doing it before this game, and a few things helped me get back my focus. I want to hold on to this focus. After playing for so long, I don't have a lot of technical problems. I think if I can win the mental game within myself, I can score runs regularly."
Shakib said he had to struggle for runs in the first half of his innings, particularly on a slow pitch and with team-mates falling quickly at the other end. "It was a different wicket. The ball wasn't coming on to the bat, so one had to play shots to get the runs. There had to be a lot of adjustment as a batsman.
"I took my time but I wouldn't have done much more as wickets were falling regularly at the other end. Credit goes to Saifuddin for finishing the game with me.
Shakib said that his only message to Afif Hossain and Saifuddin was to stick around with him till the end. "Even when I was batting with Afif, all I was telling him was that we batsmen should be around till the 45th over. At that stage, scoring 30 runs in the last two overs becomes possible in this day and age.
"We wanted to take the game close. We never talked about needing 60-70 runs, which should be chased quickly. Run-a-ball chasing in ODI cricket is now very much possible," he said.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84