JOHANNESBURG – What has made Shakib Al Hasan’s spectacular start to this World Cup seem unremarkable is that it was expected.
Shakib, who’s played more than 200 ODIs and is in his fourth World Cup, is supposed to be playing this way, dominating and guiding in the manner of a senior player.
Two centuries, two half-centuries and five wickets is what a player of his standing expected of himself, as much as the fervent Bangladesh supporters. His is a kind of pressure the Proteas players can barely relate to and yet he’s out there doing his job, while the Proteas (ahead of yesterday’s match) aren’t.
Shakib has had his home pelted with rocks and his wife abused in the stands, he’s been fired as captain, then suspended by Bangladesh’s cricket board, and is blamed almost every time the team lose.
It comes as no surprise that occasionally Shakib has lost his temper. And that he has come into this World Cup so focused and, from the outside at least, looking relaxed is a sign that the consistency of selection has been beneficial.
Bangladesh batting coach Neil McKenzie told The Telegraph that it was vital Bangladesh’s batsmen play like themselves. They are not Chris Gayle, David Miller or Glenn Maxwell but have skills that make up for that lack of raw power, which McKenzie wants them to utilise.
One of those skills is intelligence. We saw it in Mushfiqur Rahim and Shakib’s third wicket partnership of 142 against South Africa two weeks ago. There was no adventurous swinging; rather, the ball was placed cleverly into space and the pair took advantage of South Africa’s sluggish fielding to keep the scoreboard ticking.
Clearly scoring off the short ball was going to be crucial at this World Cup. Bangladesh have handled that with aplomb (and a little bit of luck), shattering the cliched theory about their weakness against that type of strategy.
And it’s been Shakib who’s led the way, in the manner that a senior player should. There’s an example there for the Proteas.
It’s been a tournament of far too many excuses from South Africa. They shot themselves in the foot by selecting an injured player to start the tournament; on the day the competition started, the players’ union, which would have had the national team’s full backing, approached the courts to force Cricket South Africa to reveal details about why they’re restructuring the domestic game; and sometime after that, AB de Villiers happened.
Amidst all of that, none of the senior players have stepped up. The best Protea on view so far has been Andile Phehlukwayo, followed by Rassie van der Dussen (who’s played just over 20 international matches) and Chris Morris, who wasn’t even selected initially. Shakib has shown there is no room for excuses.
Before the match against New Zealand yesterday, SA were on the brink of elimination. They asked for patience while trialling players last year, sacrificing a home series against India in the process; they have demanded support, told us they’re relaxed, and that the World Cup isn’t the be all and end all for them.
Fine, but they could do with playing it as if it’s an important event - something they haven’t done over the first five games.
Shakib Al Hasan has shown how it’s possible to thrive under pressure - a senior player who has stepped up.
It’s not really a surprise, he’s just doing his damn job.@shockerhess