The best player in the team makes for a natural leader, with unquestioned authority and influence. It’s for Shakib to use that to his, and Bangladesh’s, advantage now. © Getty Images

The best player in the team makes for a natural leader, with unquestioned authority and influence. It’s for Shakib Al Hasan to use that to his, and Bangladesh’s, advantage now. © Getty Images

Bangladesh have a new Test captain, and that could be a good thing and a bad thing.

The basic details first. The team recently travelled to South Africa and lost a two-Test series 2-0. The margins of defeat, even against a not-quite-full-strength opposition, were telling: 333 runs, and an innings and 254 runs. All Bangladesh put up in their four innings were 320, 90, 141 and 172. They picked up 13 wickets in three bowling innings.

At the end of the series, whether because Sri Lanka wanted him back or because Bangladesh didn’t want him or he didn’t want Bangladesh any more, Chandika Hathurusingha, the coach, left. That developed a few days ago. On Sunday (December 10), Mushfiqur Rahim was sacked as the Test captain and Shakib Al Hasan returned to the helm. Shakib had been removed from the position in 2011, in favour of Rahim. The latest update makes Shakib the leader of both the Test and T20 International teams, with Mashrafe Mortaza still the captain of the One-Day International side.

The team still doesn’t have a new coach. One hopes there will be one by the time Sri Lanka travel to Bangladesh in January for two Tests – perhaps the ideal situation for Shakib to ease into his new role.

Mushfiqur Rahim and Chandika Hathurusinghe didn't always see eye to eye but their contribution to Bangladesh cricket can't be denied. © AFP

Mushfiqur Rahim and Chandika Hathurusinghe didn’t always see eye to eye but their contribution to Bangladesh cricket can’t be denied. © AFP

Those in the know say this was on the cards. Rahim might be Bangladesh’s most successful Test captain – they have won only ten Tests since starting out in 2000 and seven have been with him as leader – and the team might have had their best phase in Test cricket under him, but he was always the nowhere man. Not hugely respected by his teammates, and humiliated on more than one occasion by the team management, perhaps at the behest of the Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB). His defensive, safety-first captaincy didn’t help – winning the toss and fielding in Potchefstroom and Bloemfontein weren’t the best calls either, even if the results might not have been any different had he batted.

On the humiliation front, Rahim was asked to hand over the captaincy to Tamim Iqbal during the latter part of the Test Bangladesh won against England in Mirpur, and in Bloemfontein more recently, he was sent off to field in the deep even though he was the designated captain. He spoke out against Hathurusingha and the team management in South Africa too, and that is most likely the point at which the tide turned decisively against him.

Quiet and unassuming, Rahim largely stayed away from confrontations and, perhaps, even conversations. For a team with big ambitions, little patience and a tough away season coming up, the exit was perhaps inevitable. One wishes it were done better, though, and proper reasons given. ““We can’t really talk about the exact reason for changing the captaincy,” said Nazmul Hasan, the BCB president. Quite inadequate. Of course, one hopes Rahim has been told, and is on board – happily or not.

Now we have Shakib at the helm again – the man who is by far Bangladesh’s greatest cricketer ever but also the man who won only one out of the nine Tests he led in back in 2009-2011. Not to forget, he asked for leave and was granted it when Bangladesh went to South Africa for the Test series. It was definitely the team’s toughest assignment in a long time, and they had to do it without the best player in their corner. If anyone felt he had chickened out, or had wonky priorities, they would have a fair case.

Tamim, in his new, more mature avatar, seems a fair choice to be captain of the team that has often been affected by factions. © AFP

Tamim Iqbal, in his new, more mature avatar, seems a fair choice to be captain of the team that has often been affected by factions. © AFP

But it is Shakib now. At least for the present. In Bangladesh, not unlike in other parts of the subcontinent, circumstances change with every change in regime, partisanship is rife. Shakib was offloaded – or at least removed from captaincy and from the leadership group – around the same time that he fell out with Mustafa Kamal, the then BCB boss. Now Rahim is not in favour and Shakib is. In another era, he would have been criticised and called a mercenary for skipping the South Africa tour. Now, he has not only been permitted it, he has been made captain immediately after.

But, again, why not Tamim? I am not an insider, of course, but Tamim, in his new, more mature avatar, seems a fair choice to be captain of the team that has often been affected by factions. He is the unofficial leader of the young troops and is widely regarded as a thinking cricketer who has changed from being a dasher to a responsible figure on and off the field. In the course of the dramatic announcements on Sunday, Tamim was mentioned only once. And that was to say he had been removed from the Test vice-captaincy in favour of Mahmudullah.

Personally, I would have liked to see him being given more responsibility, being told that his contribution and seniority had been acknowledged.

Whether that would have worked for the team or not, who knows? Whether Shakib as leader will work for the team or not, who knows?

Shakib might be Bangladesh’s best cricketer, and Tamim their most reliable batsman, but Rahim has certainly been their most dependable crisis-man for a while now. As captain, his batting certainly didn’t suffer, even if his work behind the stumps was often shoddy.

Mushfiqur Rahim’s batting numbers

Tests

Runs

Average

Best

100s

Overall

58

3516

35.16

200

5

As captain

34

2321

41.44

200

4

From Bangladesh’s point of view, one can only hope that without the added burden of captaincy, and all that it entailed – the often tawdry treatment, for example – Rahim will be an even better batsmen, shoring up the middle order in times of trouble.

As for Shakib, that he has greater stature than Rahim, or most people, cannot be denied. He also has a better team at his disposal than he did when he was captain last. Captaincy is also something that he feels is his by right. Now he has it. It’s a crucial time for Bangladesh cricket, where their senior players – Tamim, Rahim and Shakib – have all raised their games and made Bangladesh a better force than they were even two years ago.

There is a vacuum below the big three, and that's something that will worry Shakib. © Getty Images

There is a vacuum below the big three, and that’s something that will worry Shakib. © Getty Images

There is a vacuum below them, though, with consistent performances often lacking. Mehidy Hasan and Mustafizur Rahman have been the best of the lot, but there are still several holes that need plugging. Not least that of Mahmudullah, Shakib’s new deputy but someone who was dropped from the Test team not long ago and still only averages 30.17 after 35 Tests.

Hathurusingha and Rahim, even if they didn’t always see eye to eye, have given Bangladesh some great moments – wins over England and Australia at home and Sri Lanka away. Now it is for Shakib and whoever he finds by his side wearing the coach’s hat to take the team to the next level. Tough, but not impossible. Starting strongly at home against Sri Lanka would be a good beginning.

Examples of the best player in the team not quite pulling it off as a captain are legion – Shakib needs only look next door at India, and Sachin Tendulkar, for precedence. At the same time, the best player in the team makes for a natural leader, with unquestioned authority and influence. It’s for Shakib to use that to his, and Bangladesh’s, advantage now. And a little less interference from off-field sources will help for sure.