Shakib Al Hasan: Bangladesh ready for the big leap

“These days we play a lot of matches, so the chances of injury are also high. And to be honest, more than the physical issues, the mental fitness makes the difference. If you are mentally fatigued, then it is actually a lot more difficult to play constantly. Those are the times when you require a fair amount of break,” says Shakib Al Hasan.

Shakib Al Hasan... very positive about Bangladesh cricket.   -  AP

Shakib Al Hasan’s decision to skip the Test series against South Africa created a storm in the cricketing circles. While the social media trolled the Bangladesh all-rounder for taking a break ahead of the team’s important overseas tour, Shakib made it clear that after playing continuously, for so long, he needed a breather.

In an exclusive chat with Sportstar — the player’s first with an Indian publication following his decision to take a break from the game — Shakib, 30, said that he plans to continue playing for his nation for another five to six years. He was also confident about Bangaldesh’s success in the years to come.

Excerpts:

It has been quite a busy season for you. Now that you have taken a break from the games, how are you spending your free time?

Answer: (Laughs) I am enjoying the much-needed break with my family. I am trying to spend most of the time with my near and dear ones.

Your decision to skip the South Africa Test series has created a controversy. But how important is this break for a busy cricketer like you?

It is very important for any cricketer. These days we play a lot of matches, so the chances of injury are also high. And to be honest, more than the physical issues, the mental fitness makes the difference. If you are mentally fatigued, then it is actually a lot more difficult to play constantly. Those are the times when you require a fair amount of break. And I took this decision keeping all these things in mind.

Many, however, believe that your decision to skip the Test series against South Africa would ultimately put the team in trouble. They feel that the youngsters are still not ready to face the challenges in the South African conditions...

I don’t agree. Look, I think our young generation is definitely capable of taking the big leap, and this is because our domestic cricket has improved immensely over the years. Our first-class cricket structure has had a major overhaul. Then there is the Bangladesh Premier League (BPL). A lot of young cricketers have benefited from the BPL, as it has provided them better exposure. So, these things are helping more and more players to close in on a berth in the national team. That is actually a good sign for Bangladesh cricket, and I believe this pool of young talent has actually made the job easy for us, the seniors.

Having said that, I also agree that there is room for improvement. But I am happy with the way we have progressed so far.

What are the areas that need more attention?

There can’t be any end to development. You can’t say that this is it, because there is no limit. Australia and England are superior cricket-playing nations, and even they are always trying to develop the infrastructure and raise the bar. So, even we need to take the game forward. We are already trying to fix a few things, but at this point of time, it is not quite possible for me to specifically mention those areas. All I can say is that we have started the development process.

Bangladesh’s Shakib Al Hasan (centre) celebrates with team-mates after dismissing Australia’s Usman Khawaja on Day Three of the first Test at the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium in Mirpur in August 2017. Shakib’s 5 for 85 in the second innings hastened Australia’s defeat in the match. “Collectively, we have been able to tick all the boxes, and that’s why success has come our way,” says the all-rounder.   -  Getty Images

Being the skipper of the T20 team and also its key player, how do you see Bangladesh cricket shaping up in the next few years? Are you happy with the way it has performed recently?

I feel the next five years would be extremely important for Bangladesh cricket. Now we have a very good mix of experience and youth. While we have some of the senior players in the side, there are also quite a few young talented cricketers, who are willing to walk the extra mile. So, in the next few years, we must perform well in the important tournaments and tours.

We should also realise that the seniors won’t be around forever. So, once we walk out, there will be a transition phase. It is quite natural in cricket. It has happened to all teams. Be it Australia or Sri Lanka, all of them have gone through this phase. So, our target would be to pace up early so that the transition is smooth. That’s the main target in the next few years.

When you decided to take a break, there were speculations that it was your conscious decision to keep yourself fit for the franchise-based cricket leagues. Being a player who features in almost all the franchise-based leagues in the world, how do you react to this?

(Laughs) I have nothing to say, really. Look, maintaining a balance is always important. Every international cricketer prefers his national team over the franchises. They only opt for the leagues when there is some excess time. These options always help a cricketer to be in the international scene and improve his game. That’s my answer.

The social media went berserk following your decision. You were even trolled...

I don’t read too much into it. Over the years, I have realised that there is no point in thinking too much about what the people say. At the end of the day, I am the one who goes out on the field and plays. If I can’t perform, then these people will again doubt my fitness. So, it is better that I take a call on my fitness — both physical and mental. I know what I go through, so all those talks have very little significance for me.

When you started, people thought that you were a bit inconsistent. But over the years, you have become the poster boy of Bangladesh cricket. Even recently, you bagged the highest bat contract in Bangladesh cricket. How has it all been?

It has been a big thing. It is actually not easy to explain how exciting the journey has been. This has happened because of the huge support from the people all around. I have always been grateful to them, and have always tried to give back something to the game. I also feel there is still a lot to achieve. I firmly believe that I still have another five to six years of cricket left in me. I know it would require hard work, but I am game for that. The Test series against Australia has also boosted my confidence.

READ: Bangladesh, a minnow no more

Talking about the Test series against Australia, could you tell us what was that ‘mystery delivery’ you came up with in the first Test? It seemed to have had a big effect on the Aussies...

(Laughs out loud) Well, there is no mystery. We have some really good wrist spinners, and they performed brilliantly during the series to put Australia on the back-foot. Actually, we knew the wickets well and planned accordingly. It was also important to execute the plans well and we were able to do that. That’s it. Trust me, there hasn’t been any secret behind my bowling success either.

Over the years, you have developed your spin bowling skills immensely. It only got better in the series against Australia. There are talks that Sunil Joshi (Bangladesh’s spin bowling consultant) helped you with a few tips…

Sunil has been really good for us. He has also played a big role in our success against Australia. But it was not just him. The coach (Chandika Hathurusinghe), and the Bangladesh Cricket Board, too, have supported us throughout. Collectively, we have been able to tick all the boxes, and that’s why success has come our way. I would like to see it that way.

READ: The man behind Bangladesh’s win by spin

What are your targets for the future?

I never set personal targets. But I would like to take Bangladesh cricket to the next level in the next five years.