It has been a great week for the underdogs of International cricket. At Headingley a very inexperienced West Indies side chased down over 300 to beat England on the last day and in Dhaka only a day later Australia were beaten to find themselves one down with one to play against Bangladesh. Two of cricket’s superpowers being overturned by supposed minnows were not the outcomes many expected.
West Indian cricket has been in the doldrums for a while now and whilst a win of this magnitude offers optimism of a revival, it is not the first time a glimmer of hope has appeared. Sadly, when this has happened before, it has all too rapidly been extinguished. It does demonstrate, however, that they have the capabilities to compete at the highest level but doing it consistently is what is required now.
The victory for Bangladesh was less surprising, due to their impressive recent home form, but provided further evidence of their continuing improvement. After making their Test debut in 2000 it took them just over four years to record a Test series win, against Zimbabwe in January 2005. They then had to wait another four years to win their next one; this time away from home against a West Indies ravaged by internal strife (a depressingly familiar tale, that one).
However, in the last two and a half years Bangladesh have only lost in two of their nine series, including drawn series against England, India and South Africa (with only one Test remaining against Australia the worst they can do is draw this series) at home.
One of the key contributors to their recent form has been Shakib Al Hasan, who turned in bowling figures of 10-153 and top scored in their first innings with an impressive 84 against Australia. Shakib has been an international player for over a decade now but at 30 is now arguably the best all-rounder in the game. His contributions span across all formats and his experience of the Big Bash, the IPL and many other domestic competitions throughout the world have only enhanced him as a player.
He is a gutsy and elegant batsman who has improved as his career has progressed. His ability to adapt his game to the demands placed upon him as a middle order player has always been particularly impressive. With the ability to either look to dominate the attack or drop anchor if there have been early wickets has been vital to Bangladesh’s success. Along with Tamim Iqbal at the top of the order, these two are the ones in the side who look to score big runs.
His variety and skill with the ball means he is a constant menace and certainly at home his ability to consistently take wickets makes him a serious threat. When you consider that Bangladesh play less Test cricket than the leading nations due to their inferior ranking, he has done most of his learning playing the shorter forms of the game but his intelligence and supreme ability allow him to adapt to whatever situation confronts him with bat or ball.
His career Test batting average of 41 and bowling average of 32 from a meagre 50 Tests is outstanding. When you put it into context against another of the game’s preeminent all-rounders, Ben Stokes, who sold for an IPL auction record of £1.7 million and averages 35 with both bat and ball from 38 games, Shakib’s record is undeniably impressive. When you also add that since 2014 he averages 48 with the bat and 31 with the ball, the argument for calling him cricket’s Most Valuable Player is strong.
The modern game is obsessed with ‘the all-rounder’ and the players who offer more than one discipline to their armoury propel themselves to the front of the queue for selection in most countries. The hope that the next Botham, Kallis or Sobers will emerge and be part of your side is one that all selectors long for. In Shakib Al Hasan, Bangladesh have one of the greats of the modern game and his recent performances have confirmed as much.
By Andy Hunter