WHO IS the best all-round cricketer in the world? Australian cricket fans should stand by to find out. He plays for Bangladesh and Steve Smith’s men are about to come up against him. IAN CALLEN reports:
As a cricketing nation still in its teenage years – they played their first Test against India in 2000 – Bangladesh are now making encouraging progress. Recent results against England at home and Sri Lanka away have seen them come from behind to level both series with their first wins against each of those nations. The Sri Lanka win came in their 100th Test and brought their total to nine. That is still a modest statistic but as a group they’re gaining a healthy belief in their ability and nothing reinforces confidence better than hard fought wins. In the series that is about to begin I have no doubt they will demonstrate this conviction because it is generated by the charismatic, inspiring qualities of Shakib Al Hasan.
Australian fans do not see much of Bangladesh. They have played only four Tests against Australia, two here and two there, the last ones 11 years ago, for four defeats. At that stage Shakib had not made his debut. So, it may not be generally appreciated just what a good player the 30-year-old left-handed batsman and left-arm orthodox spin bowler is. Make no mistake, he is a superstar.
Shakib was captain in nine Tests between 2009 and 2011 before being replaced by wicketkeeper-batsman Mushfiqur Rahim and is still highly influential. His self-assured, infectious attitude persuades others to rise to the occasion and when he takes the field for the first Test in Dhaka, it will be his 50th. That will qualify him as a player of longevity. But more pertinently he is statistically the best all-round cricketer in the world. There has been no other contemporary player to have maintained Test match contribution levels in all three of the game’s major skills – batting, bowling and fielding – at such a high standard.
Shakib has been quietly, relentlessly achieving greatness. He has 3,479 Test runs at an average of better than 40, five centuries, a highest score of 217 and 176 wickets, which includes five wickets in an innings 15 times. I have for some time used a formula of my own for assessing players’ contributions to their team’s success. Feel free to examine this in detail by going to www.callencricket.com.au and keep in mind that this is not meant to be a definitive gospel, rather a unique method of interpreting what really is part of cricket’s lifeblood, the statistics.
My formula depends on the generally accepted tenet that 100 runs and five wickets are of equal value, plus catches are worth the same as a wicket. Therefore, I multiply a player’s wickets by 20, ditto catches, add them to his runs and then divide by the number of Tests played to arrive at an average value for each game played. It’s not that complicated when you think about it, and it does produce some interesting results.
For instance, we come up with Sir Garfield Sobers with a contribution-per-game ratio of 160.33. Ian Botham is third with 149.59 and Sir Donald Bradman is fourth with 147.59. Yes, fourth – which is explained by the fact that he was not an all-rounder. By this calculation, Shakib is second only to Sobers with a rating of 151.95. Check out the rest of the list – it’s interesting.
If anyone still doubts that Al Hasan belongs in this company, this is what the authoritative website Cricinfo.com says about him:
“When the annals of Bangladesh cricket are sifted by future generations, Shakib Al Hasan will emerge and re-emerge as the greatest cricketer of its first two decades. His on-field performances and off-field professionalism set a benchmark that was followed by peers and juniors alike. As a bowler, Shakib is accurate, consistent and canny; aggression and a wide range of strokes are the keys to his batting. Even more importantly, he has self-belief, an excellent temperament, unflustered by the big occasion and ready to do battle against the top teams.
“The best of his ability and temperament were on display in his first Test as captain, against a weakened West Indies side in Grenada, when Shakib took eight wickets and scored an unbeaten 96 in a tense but successful fourth-innings chase of 215, leading Bangladesh to their first overseas series victory. In only his fourth Test as captain, Shakib scored 87 and 100 – his maiden Test century – in a losing cause against New Zealand in Hamilton, performances that offered further proof of his skill and ability to handle pressure. Against the same opponents in 2008, Shakib took 7 for 36 in Chittagong, only the second instance of a Bangladesh bowler taking seven or more wickets in a Test innings.”
I have no doubt he will add extra dimensions to the contest against Australia in Dhaka and Chittagong. Coaches Darren Lehmann and David Saker will be well aware of his ability to elicit home town support from the knowledgeable and patriotic crowds. While this might be a distraction the Australians will have to overcome, it will be nothing compared to that perpetrated against their playing list by their employer because of the protracted battle over pay. What must have been going through the minds of the coaching staff in the dark of night as they tried to focus on preparing for this tricky assignment is anyone’s guess. And they have only one two-day game to acclimatise, which will accentuate the disrupted preparation. On the other hand, the Tigers, as they are known, have been training diligently for many weeks.
The Australian management will be well aware of the experiences of 11 years ago when leg-spinners Shane Warne and Stuart MacGill shared 28 wickets and the pace attack collected 11 lousy wickets between them in four innings. Maybe they have taken comfort from the four centuries our boys scored that tour… more than England have in all three of their tours.
Our batsmen will confront young and enthusiastic bowling combinations who are prepared to work in partnership with their match-winner, Shakib. Mustafizur Rahman a highly promising 21-year-old left arm medium will be one of them and the other is the 19-year-old off-spinner Mehedi Hasa Miraz, who will aim to dry the flow of runs and frustrate Australia’s attacking style of play.
In the field our bowlers will know the Bangladeshi batsmen Tamin Iqbal, Imrul Kayes, Shakib and Mushifiqur Rahin, who have all played big innings and are supported deep into the tail.
Penetrating their batting depth will not be easy, especially with the loss of gun pacemen Mitchell Starc and James Pattinson. Nevertheless, we can look forward to the pace of Pat Cummins in short bursts with Josh Hazlewood, and the intrigue of Nathan Lyon working in partnership with West Australian – but home-grown Victorian –– Ashton Agar.
After all the off-field turmoil of the last few weeks … bring on the cricket! This will be just the start of a huge few months for the great game.