Are you someone who doesn’t shy from speaking truth to power? Or are you misunderstood? Shakib Al Hasan allowed the questions to sink in before letting out a soft laugh. “I think it is a combination of both. Misunderstood and yes, I believe what needs to be said has to be said,” said the Bangladesh all-rounder who is back at Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) after three seasons.
Shakib is a once in a generation cricketer. He has scored a century and taken 10 wickets in a Test—only Imran Khan and Ian Botham had done that in the game. He is the fastest all-rounder to reach 200 wickets and 3,000 runs in Tests. He is the world’s leading ODI all-rounder—not for the first time—second on the list in T20Is and his bowling figures of 6/6 in the 2013 Caribbean Premier League (CPL) is the third best of all time in the shortest version. He has been Player of the Tournament in Asia Cup, the most expensive player in the Bangladesh Premier League, its player of the tournament, and has won two Indian Premier League (IPL) titles with KKR.
On way to his and the team’s first IPL title in 2012, Shakib won two Man-of-the-Match awards. At the IPL players’ auction in February, KKR fought off bids from Punjab Kings to buy Shakib for ₹3.20 crore. “Don’t know. That is something you have to ask the management,” he said, with a throaty laugh when asked what he could bring to the team.
There is another side to the canny left-arm spinner who is also capable of giving the ball a merry thwack. Shakib has also been perceived as the establishment’s bête noire. Accepting that he breached the anti-corruption code of the International Cricket Council, Shakib, then Bangladesh captain, was banned for two years, one of them suspended, in 2019. He returned to cricket in the Bangabandhu T20 Cup last November.
Shakib has also been fined and banned by Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) against whom he joined players in a strike in 2019. “He has severe attitude problem, which is unprecedented in the history of Bangladesh cricket. We think his behaviour is such that it is directly impacting the team,” BCB president Nazmul Hassan was quoted as telling reporters in 2014. This was after a run-in with then coach Chandika Hathurusingha following which Shakib left for CPL without clearance.
The nub of the problem was Hathurusingha asking Shakib to join a preparatory camp whose dates clashed with CPL. Even now, his joining KKR happened after a lot of back and forth with BCB over Shakib saying he wanted to skip Tests in Sri Lanka to play IPL and prepare for the World T20 later this year. “These two Tests are our last matches in the World Test Championship so it is not as if we are going to play the final. We are at the very bottom of the points table. I don’t think it makes much of a difference,” ESPNcricinfo reported Shakib as saying. “Those who keep saying that I don’t want to play Tests, I am sure they didn’t read my letter,” he said, referring to Akram Khan, BCB’s cricket operations chairman and former captain.
BCB has let Shakib play IPL till May 18 after which he will join the Bangladesh ODI squad for the series against Sri Lanka. Beginning on April 9, IPL runs till May 30.
So, in a long international career that began in 2006 were there things you would have done differently? “Not really, I haven’t done much wrong. There are a few things here and there that I could have changed but nothing major,” said Shakib, 34, in the interview.
What he would have liked to change is avoiding quarantine. “I haven’t been able to meet any of my teammates,” he said, echoing what KKR skipper Eoin Morgan said at Wednesday’s virtual media conference. That he has been a new father— Shakib and wife Umme Ahmed Shisir had a boy on March 15, their third child— makes living alone all the more difficult.
“Family support has been tremendous throughout my career. It helped me immensely to be honest, to play this long, for Bangladesh and in franchise tournaments. Yes, it is extremely difficult for a player who has family but then you cannot do anything in this situation. You have to make up your mind that okay, you have to get through this without your family. You have to cope,” he said.
An injury and paternity leave has kept him out of cricket since early February and Shakib said it could augur well for him that KKR start in Chennai, a venue known to favour spin. “Yes, I think that is an opportunity. This year, I think most of the grounds will be little suitable for spin bowlers and that might help my game a bit more. Having said that, most of the wickets in IPL remain very good for batting so you cannot predict. Good if it happens that way. Else you adapt and adjust.”
In a first-time format, no team will play at home. KKR’s venues are Chennai (three), Mumbai (two), Ahmedabad (four) and Bengaluru (five).
Asked whether he would be able to “adjust” if asked to open—KKR have used a pinch-hitter at the top and the middle-order is likely to be packed with Morgan, Andre Russell and Dinesh Karthik—Shakib said: “At this moment, I don’t think that’s the plan for Baz (coach Brendon McCullum) and Morgan, but if I am asked, I will be happy to do it. The team comes first.”