Shakib Al Hasan opens up on Bangladesh cricket, World Cup hopes and more

Bangladesh all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan, who will be playing his fourth World Cup, stresses on the cricket culture in his nation that helped the national team dream big.

“We have quite a few players who have already played in the World Cup, that experience will count for us,” says Bangladesh’s star all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan of his country’s chances in England.   -  B. Jothi Ramalingam

There were whispers of Shakib Al Hasan buying the ruling party’s nomination form to contest in the parliamentary elections from Magura in Bangladesh last year. But Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina immediately advised the cricketer to take it easy and focus on cricket. That more or less sums up his importance in the national team.

Shakib’s series of firsts — franchise cricket commitments across the cricketing globe while maintaining the No. 1 rank as an all-rounder in all formats — turned him into a superstar in these years.

Sportstar met the Bangladesh vice-captain at a five-star hotel in Chennai during his IPL gig with Sunrisers Hyderabad. “I am talkative and I like telling stories and listening to them. Not many people know about that as I don’t look that type,” he chuckled, before gearing up to answer the question of the hour — the importance of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 to the people of Bangladesh. The left-hand batsman and slow left-arm orthodox bowler will be appearing in his fourth World Cup.

WATCH | Long World Cup format will make things difficult for teams, says Shakib

The game against Chennai Super Kings (on April 23) came after a long break. How did it feel? You had finger injury issues in the past, there were setbacks and you couldn’t even go to New Zealand...

It has been a long time. If you look at the last four to five months, I didn’t really play anywhere since January. It’s just two games in the IPL. You tend to be a bit rusty. It is hard to regain rhythm. When I bowled the first two overs, the plans did not work out the way I wanted them to. As the match progressed, it started getting better. You need these two or three-odd games to get back to rhythm. I think it will get better from here. The result did not go our way [the loss to CSK at Chepauk], which was disappointing.

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You have been playing in India for many years in the IPL, in KKR and in SRH. How much have you learnt and grown by playing in this league?

There is a lot of improvement, not only skill-wise, the mental improvement is more. The challenge in every match, every over while batting and bowling, it makes you really strong when you go out and play for the national team. It has been a great experience. I have been coming here for the last seven years or so. You can’t get this experience in any other way. The ones who haven’t played here keep trying their luck in the IPL just to gain the experience; it is a big achievement for me to have been here for so many years.

KKR and SRH are both champion teams in their own right. How different are they in terms of approach and work culture?

I don’t think there is a big difference. All the IPL teams are very professional. All the teams have fantastic coaches, management and captains, so the work becomes easier for individual players. As a player, you just need to play your role. It is fine if you can do that much. Kolkata was closer to home, so I had friends and family coming over. Here, it is not that, but the atmosphere is friendly, it is like a family.

How much of an impact did David Warner create in the team? Last season was your first with Sunrisers, when he wasn’t there...

It is a massive impact to have a player like Warner come and perform consistently. In his absence, Kane (Williamson) played a fantastic role taking us to the final. He exceeded expectations. We believed in each other but nobody thought the way he did. You have to give him credit with the way he handled the side and led the side suddenly at that juncture. Warner’s return was a big boost to the side; he was in an unbelievable form [with eight fifties and a hundred].

A lot has changed since Bangladesh’s first World Cup in 1999, which was also in England. It is a champion team now. How much importance does this World Cup hold for the people of Bangladesh?

Every World Cup is important but this edition is more crucial as people have expectations from us. The formation of the tournament is different. It is a long tournament with a lot of matches. The players will have enough chances to showcase their skills and assess where they stand. The tournament will be tough due to the formation. But we have quite a few players who have already played in the World Cup; that experience will count for us.

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You preferred staying in the IPL rather than being at the World Cup camp for Bangladesh for some match practice...

If I wasn’t playing, it would have been a different case, but I got a few games as a lot of players had left. Playing a match is the best preparation for any tournament. No matter how much you practise, there is nothing like playing a match, it is the best training and it helps the most.

Bangladesh has had quite a rise in world cricket. The side is touring throughout the year and putting up a good fight in all formats. What do you think is the reason behind the rise?

The facilities have definitely improved. The system is getting better. There are quite a few young players who have done well. The team had a core set of players who have been playing together for a long time. The adjustments have been easy as every player is aware of each others’ games. Even the new players have caught the vibe. All things considered, the team saw results as a combined unit.

How challenging has it been for players to make cricket popular above everything else in Bangladesh?

I don’t think it has been that difficult. The people of Bangladesh, from the top to bottom, everybody is mad about cricket. They like their expert opinions. They are crazy. When Bangladesh plays an international match, the whole country stops. Everybody is glued to the TV sets or they are at the stadium. It is a blessing for us. Not many countries get this support. It has been one of the factors behind our rise.

The World Cup squad looks quite formidable on paper...

I feel it is a good side. This is decided by captains, coaches and the team management. The formation and set-up are decided by them. It is easier for them to reason out why a particular player has been selected. There was not much scope for changes. But every team has one or two debatable selections. It can go either way. I don’t think that’s a problem.