Shakib is of course the master of soaking up the pressure when the stakes are high. There are numerous examples throughout his career when he deliberately played down the situation. Sometimes, it is to deflect attention from himself, other times to free up his team-mates. The latest example was in the game against Afghanistan on Saturday.
Bangladesh’s much-improved pace bowling unit struggled with their run-up in the heavy Dharamshala outfield. Taskin Ahmed and Shoriful Islam couldn’t run at their optimum speed. Mustafizur Rahman was strangely the most comfortable even in this outfield. But it was Shakib who got them the first breakthrough when the pacers were looking pedestrian. Shakib next struck after Afghanistan got into a stronger position in the 16th over. Both times, he held back the pace as Ibrahim Zadran and Rahmat Shah miscued slogs.
“Apart from the spinners’ skills, they read the pitch very well,” Herath said. “They bowled according to the situation. I am sure these two spinners will assess the conditions first, and bowl according to the pitch. We have to play our brand of cricket with that approach and body language, we need to play in the same mindset. We have more chance to succeed.”
Herath said that he would rate Shakib’s bowling as perfect, as he kept the field up for much of his spell to entice the aggressive Afghanistan batters. “To be honest, I would give him 10/10. The spinners read the pitch well. They analysed which line and length to bowl. They had a very attacking field setting. When it comes to plan, you have to play with our best skill and strength. Having extra fielders inside, a different kind of field setting, so those are what we are thinking of.”
Shakib saved his best on that day with the last wicket he took. It was an innocuous delivery to Najibullah Zadran who got into a really poor position to play the ball. Shakib’s delivery held its line, but when it beat Zadran’s outside edge and struck leg-stump, you realised just how unique Shakib is despite being a left-arm orthodox bowler.
“The spinners read the pitch well. They analysed which line and length to bowl. They had a very attacking field setting. When it comes to plan, you have to play with our best skill and strength”
Rangana Herath was all praise for his bowlers
“Defending him was dangerous,” Enamul jnr had said. “He could bring the ball in without even knowing [he was doing it]. I asked him. He said he had no idea. I remember how Mahela Jayawardene struggled against him. He went on the forward defensive, but the ball moved away at the last minute and took the off bail. Next time he tried, it hit his stomach, from the same spot. He did the same thing many times during his county stint. They used to go mad trying to pick him. He could produce power from his front foot. Shakib used to have a very good speed as a result.”
The technical prowess, the understanding of conditions, pitches and opponents quickly and the experience of playing so many high-pressure matches means that Shakib has a loaded muscle memory.
Shakib the batter is almost similar in the way he handles pressure or scores runs at will in difficult situations. But he is not as elegant as Shakib the bowler. A left-arm spinner can come across as too run-of-the-mill, but Shakib brings a beauty to this bowling that only few have mastered in all these years.