Shakib Al Hasan was a week short of his 20th birthday when he played a fulsome part in one of Bangladesh cricket’s most famous victories, the five-wicket triumph against India at the 2007 World Cup. His 53, and an 84-run partnership with Mushfiqur Rahim, played a huge role in taking the side to the doorstep of victory. Bangladesh’s win pushed India towards the exit door, and they went tumbling through it a week later against Sri Lanka, who would go on to reach the final.
On the eighth anniversary of that success, Shakib, now one of the side’s senior statesmen, spoke to the media. India loom again on the horizon, this time in a World Cup quarterfinal on Thursday (March 19). Win it, and Bangladesh cricket will go where it’s never gone before, the dizzy heights of a semifinal. “On paper, India is stronger than Bangladesh and no one has any doubt on that,” said Shakib. “But it’s a one-off game. If we have a good day and they have a bad day, you never know.
“It (2007) is in our memory, but this is a new game. India are a very good side. It’s going to be hard for us. We are aware of that, and up for the challenge. If we play our best cricket, anything is possible.”
Four years ago, Bangladesh won three matches, including one against England, yet failed to make the quarterfinals on home turf. The players, branded zeroes then, are now heroes, even though the actual results haven’t been too different. As in 2011, they beat two qualifiers (Afghanistan and Scotland) and upset England. Shakib insisted, however, that the two campaigns were very different.
“I think this year we have prepared well enough,” he said. “I am not saying we didn’t prepare well in the 2011 World Cup, but the important thing has been that we won the first match (against Afghanistan). That’s what got us going.
“There are so many performers in this squad. You can count probably two or three performers in the previous cup. So those are the main changes. It’s a good sign for Bangladesh cricket that so many cricketers are contributing for the team.”
After his all-round talents, Shakib’s role within the set-up includes being vice-captain and a mentor for some of the more inexperienced players. He was unstinting in his praise for Mashrafe Mortaza, the team captain who is also by far the most experienced in the squad. “He is someone who always talks to the young players and the seniors, keeps motivating them,” said Shakib. “He is someone who is very friendly with everyone. He is very close to everyone. A player can come to him and say whatever he feels like, and they can discuss. That’s a very good sign.”
This match, in front of what’s likely to be a crowd of nearly 90,000 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, is the biggest that Bangladesh have ever featured in. Their first taste of cricket’s most imposing venue didn’t go well, as Sri Lanka crushed them by 92 runs last month. “We have played one game here, so we know what to do, especially with the big ground,” said Shakib. “You need to be careful with the field placings, and you need to know who your good fielders with good arms are to throw from the boundary. Other than that, everyone has played enough games, so they know what to do.”
South Africa’s players were astonished by the level of support that India enjoyed when they played at the MCG in February, and Shakib apart – “I have a bit of an idea by playing IPL for Kolkata (Knight Riders), before 70000 people,” he said – the atmosphere will an eye-opener for some of the players. Whatever the mood in the stands though, Shakib is certain there will be no change in Bangladesh’s approach against one of the tournament favourites.
“We played fearless cricket,” he said of the victory against England and the narrow loss to New Zealand. “We all want to play that brand of cricket.”