The focus for Bangladesh has been on playing their brand of cricket and that served them well during the 21-run win in their first World Cup match against South Africa and also -- barring a misreading of conditions -- in the second match against New Zealand, which they lost by two wickets. Sometimes, however, extraordinary situations call for extraordinary measures and, facing what was eventually Bangladesh’s highest ever successful chase in a virtual must-win encounter against West Indies yesterday, it was fittingly Shakib Al Hasan who did something out of the ordinary.
He has been the one to do that all through his career. In January 2009, Bangladesh’s cricketing view was inwards and individual achievements were feted on the basis of what it meant to the country’s cricket. Then, when no one thought of Bangladesh and number one in the same sentence, Shakib became the world’s number one all-rounder in ODI cricket, widening perceptions and introducing a global lens to Bangladeshi cricketing achievements. In most of the intervening time, he has held on to that top position in one format of cricket or the other.
Bangladesh’s innings are usually built on accumulation and a steady acceleration to a big total. Bangladesh are also not supposed to routinely punish short bowling delivered at a speed upwards of 140kph. They are also not supposed to chase down 321 with seven wickets and 8.3 overs to spare. Last but not least, they are not supposed to have a player at the top of the run charts roughly midway through a World Cup in England, but there Shakib was with 384 runs at an average 128 from five matches.
He did not magically transform himself into a West Indian six-hitter -- he hit 16 fours and no sixes in his unbeaten 99-ball 124 -- but the change was in intent. Having practised against short bowling exhaustively leading into this match, Shakib was relentless in attacking any short ball that was not spot on, and there were a lot of those from the bumper-happy West Indians. But intent was also backed up with skill and nous -- the first ball he faced was a full one from Andre Russell, and he drove it past mid off for three. As much as cuts and pulls, the straight drive along the ground and the lofted straight drive were features. So were hastily stolen singles that kept the scoreboard ticking over even when West Indies had the rare good spell of bowling.
Importantly from Bangladesh’s point of view, Bangladesh’s chase presented to the world a team that would be able to rack up big totals, and one that may no longer be undone by a simple bouncer strategy or be panicked by the prospect of chasing a big score. That may pay dividends in the remaining matches.
“I would say it is of course a new level. I think the few matches in Ireland has helped us a lot, because we won every match chasing, and we never felt like we were batting under pressure or that we needed to play big shots. Yes, everyone played big shots but proper cricketing shots, which is what the big teams do. We are trying to do that kind of thing,” Shakib said after the match.
Most importantly, however, Shakib has given his team yet another high ground to aim for -- the mindset occupied by a champion cricketer.
“Mindset is very important. At this level, in this atmosphere, mental strength is very helpful. Fitness is important too, but the more courageous you can be, everything clicks. The battle is within oneself. If you keep telling yourself, I am winning, it will definitely help you win.”
"I would say that of course it is a new level. I think the few matches in Ireland helped us a lot because we won every match when chasing, and we never felt like we were batting under pressure. I think the coaching staff should get a lot of credit because before we used to panic in the dressing room, which was a big problem. When we see that someone is listening to the radio or are chatting among themselves, it never seems that they are tense."
SHAKIB AL HASAN
BANGLADESH ACE ALL-ROUNDER