Man of the moment Shakib Al Hasan narrates his journey from the obscurity of a sleepy town to the highest level of international cricket:
Tell us a bit about how it all began for you
Well I never really wanted to become a cricketer. It was only when I started touring and getting success that I thought this wasn’t too bad! I am a late starter and didn’t hold a proper cricket ball until I was about 14-15. I come from a sporting family. My father had represented Khulna Division in football and one of my cousins is also a Bangladesh international and it was only natural for me to kick the ball around and I had participated in many tournaments for boys under the height of 4 feet 10 inches. I used to play taped-tennis ball cricket in Magura and sometimes I would go into the villages with local kids to play matches on hire. It was during one of those games that I was spotted by Saddam Hossain, an umpire from our district and he asked me to come to the trial of his club team Islampur Para which played in the Magura League. I went to their nets and bowled pace for a while and then switched to spin and found that it was more effective. I was picked for the club straightaway.
The next break came when I got selected for a talent scouting camp in Narail where coaches from the BKSP (Bangladesh Institute of Sports) had come. The camp was for one month and I received formal cricket coaching for the first time there. There were 20-odd boys of my age from all over the Division and it was a great experience. I met Mash (Mashrafe bin Mortaza) for the first time there. He used to come to our training…
Did you get a chance to speak to him?
I did. He was on the verge of breaking into the national side and everyone spoke of how quick he was and how he could hit a ball from one end of the ground to the other. We watched in awe the power of his throws. He was going to be a big star and you could see that. I also remember that he would bat in the nets and balls would disappear but he just couldn’t hit me and would get really pissed. There was also one moment that still makes me laugh. We went to a picnic and Mash found a rubber band and started bullying around with it and was striking and scaring the boys. When he struck me with the band I snapped back and gave him a taste of his own medicine. I got the beating of my life after that. Mash hasn’t changed much in the last seven year (laughs).
What happened after the camp in Narail?
Obviously the coaches saw something in me and I was taken to the BKSP for a 6-month camp after which I got admitted there. It was a rude awakening for me in the first couple of months as I was kept with a group of boys who were weak in cricket. There was a cricket tournament in BKSP where four teams of the institute competed. They played on Fridays and Saturdays and all I could do was watch helplessly and then weep in private. Then one day Salah Uddin Sir (Bangladesh fielding coach Mohammad Salah Uddin), who was a BKSP coach back then, saw me watching a game and asked which team I was playing for. When he heard that I didn’t have a team he took me to another coach Hasanuzzaman Rinku and requested him to give me a chance. I played the next few games and emerged as the highest wicket-taker in the competition.
Another lucky chance did wonders for me. A bus load of us BKSP boys were taken to an Under 15 trial of the BCB to form teams. I never got a chance to bat or bowl and naturally wasn’t selected but one of the boys withdrew himself for exam or something and my name was recommended by the BKSP coaches to replace him. I played for Dhaka Metro Green and made 102 off 52 balls against Sylhet and my fortunes changed overnight.
I became a regular in the Bangladesh Under 15 side and toured India a few times. We had a lot of matches against the Cricket Association of Bengal Under 15s home and away. I was then included in the Under 17 team and played in the Asia Cup in 2004. I won a match against Sri Lanka in that competition at Visakhapatnam. We made about 178 or 179 and they were 50 in four overs. I came into bowl and took four for 16 which changed the game and we made the semifinals.
After returning home I played for Victoria Sporting Club in the Dhaka Premier League and was then included in the BCB Game Development Department’s High Performance (HP) Unit. I got into the Bangladesh A team in 2005 and toured Zimbabwe. I think I took 12 wickets in the first two four-day matches against Zimbabwe A before I cut short the trip and came back to sit for the SSC exam. I played in the Under 19 World Cup in 2006 and I could feel then that my Bangladesh debut was not that far away as I was performing at every level.
What was the experience like for you of playing in the pressure-cooker atmosphere of Dhaka Premier Division league? Your club captain Khaled Mashud has gone on record as saying that he spotted you singing while waiting to go out to bat…
I didn’t feel any pressure to honest. It was just like another competition for me. I was given the opportunity at Victoria by coach Salah Uddin who was the club’s coach also. He had faith in me despite my age. I got Taka 50,000 cash on signing and was the happiest person on earth that day. In the first match my 39 was the highest score. By my fourth game the full payment had been cleared by the club. In that season I played about 10 matches and batted in every possible position, from opening to number seven. The coach experimented with me a lot (laughs).
When did you start believing that you were going to play for Bangladesh?
At the BKSP we had players who were making it into national selections even as students. Mushfiqur Rahim made his Test debut in 2005 and Shahadat (Hossain) also. For me it was a challenge. I just couldn’t rest until I got there too. These were guys who I saw everyday and could not swallow the fact that they had played for Bangladesh before me. It is not envy or jealousy but I thought I was just as good and became more determined than ever to improve my game.
You see I am a very competitive person. For example, when Rocky (Roqibul Hassan) got the man of the match award in the second ODI against Zimbabwe I kept telling myself ‘Shakib, you moron, you could have been up there today. You blew your chance’. Don’t get me wrong, I am so happy to see Roqibul, Mushfique, Mehrab (Hossain Jr.), Tamim (Iqbal) and the others performing and I am so proud of them because we have grown up as cricketers together. For me the cricket ground is a place to show my worth. I go out to field as if I’m entering the boxing ring and there’s no place for the guy who comes second best there.
What do you reckon were the turning points in your cricket career?
First it has to be the BKSP. I have always been a pretty independent type and a generally private person so the hostel life really didn’t worry me that much. There were days when I would be the only boy in the whole dormitory as the other students had gone off on a vacation and I had to stay back because of my cricket commitments. I became more disciplined and learned many virtues of life by staying there. BKSP taught me the importance of studies and I have never neglected it since.
Secondly, the now defunct HP Unit. Getting selected for the HP group was a blessing. I still think the HP Unit was the best thing to have happened to the development of Bangladesh cricket. We had the toughest possible training regime devised by Richard McInnes but even after back-breaking training we would practice on our own during the leisure time. We were that inspired. We had classes on leadership and there were speech sessions. It was a comprehensive life and cricket education package. I learned so much from it. I think I owe my fitness to the HP training.
There must be some people who have played a decisive role in your becoming a cricketer…
Ofcourse. I was never discouraged to play as a youngster. There were times though when I would skip school to play cricket or football. Only my mother would know where I was and she would not tell anyone and would always protect me if my dad found out.
I am indebted to three persons. Without their intervention I would probably be lost in the crowd and never become an international cricketer.
Bappy Sir (Ashfaqul Islam Bappy, BCB Game Education Deputy Manager) is from my home town and he convinced my parents that I had a future in cricket. He was a coach at BKSP back then and he made sure that I got admitted there.
For my bowling and the mental part of cricket Salah Uddin Sir has been an unbelievable mentor. He took me under his wings at the BKSP and when I got into the national side he was there too and that obviously helped.
Whatever I know in batting I have learned from Fahim Sir (Nazmul Abedeen Fahim, Divisional Cricket Manager Game Development BCB). He has overseen my progress from the age level to the national team.
Also, I am grateful to all the coaches at the BKSP.
International debut as a teenager and a world star at 21. How has life changed for you?
It hasn’t changed much really. I used to have very specific times for hanging out in Magura and I would always come home before it was too late. Now most of my friends are from the circle of cricket and my childhood mates have moved to different colleges and universities and it is difficult for me to stay in touch. Also, their topics of discussion have become career oriented, some of them are in the medical college or the engineering university, and hanging out is not the same anymore because I have taken a different track. When I do return home I usually spend time with the family. I take rest, listen to music, browse the net and watch TV. I just relax when I’m not playing. I try to keep my life as private as possible and as simple as possible.
You have probably heard this query a hundred times already. What did it feel like when you learned about becoming number one in the ICC ODI rankings for all-rounders?
It didn’t quite sink in. I was more concerned with the series decider against Zimbabwe the next day. When I went to bat in the game it was then I realized the level of expectation and I wanted to do something befitting of my status as the number one all-rounder. I am definitely proud but to be honest I have never really thought much about rankings and standings. With consistent performance the ranking automatically goes up and I believe this is one area where we need to improve a lot as a team. We have to start performing individually and as a group day in and day out.