Shakib-al-Hasan is easily the best cricketer to have come out of Bangladesh. He has been a star for Kolkata Knight Riders in the IPL, making useful contributions with bat and ball. Here, Shakib speaks to Wisden India about the Bangladesh Premier League, its effect on Bangladesh cricket as the whole, and of more cricketers from his country getting ready to play in the IPL.
We'll come to the IPL in a moment, Shakib, but before that tell us about the Asia Cup. When did Bangladesh become so good? How did the transformation take place?
It was a good tournament for us, wasn't it? If you look at the results, we did really well. Of course, I still feel that we should have been the champions, but the most heartening aspect is the way we played the game. I was very satisfied with our attitude.
Interestingly, the Asia Cup came soon after the first season of the Bangladesh Premier League. Is there a connection between the BPL and Bangladesh's improved performance?
Yes, there is a connection. Earlier, when we were chasing a big total, say 150-160 in 20 overs, we never thought we would be able to get it. But after playing the BPL, we know we can do it because we have chased such targets more often than not. That gives us a lot of confidence. And the youngsters are getting used to hitting big shots and clearing the fence. So the BPL has certainly given us a lot of confidence. Now, we need to build on it.
What you are saying suggests that we will have more and more aggressive batsmen like Tamim Iqbal coming up the ranks now?
There are some players in the pipeline, and I think some of them played really well in the BPL. I don't want to take names yet, because that won't be right. But the Bangladesh Cricket Board is looking after them, and hopefully, when they come up the ranks, they will do really well.
In India, we still talk of the IPL spoiling young Indian cricketers. Is there a similar fear in Bangladesh, seeing that the BPL has come so early in Bangladesh's cricket history?
I don't think that will happen, but, at the same time, there are some initiatives that the Board needs to take. Our first-class structure definitely needs to improve. I am not saying we shouldn't have the BPL. We should, from the financial point of view. But on the other hand, if we want to do well in Test cricket, we need to rebuild our first-class structure.
Talking about you specifically, Shakib, do you think that people perceive you as a big fish in a small pond?
I have never thought about it like that. I have always thought that I was born to play for Bangladesh. I am very happy with where I am right now and the way my cricket has improved. It's a big challenge, but I am enjoying every moment of it. These are the challenges cricketers want, and when you take them up and become successful, it's very satisfying. The Asia Cup was a huge high. We're very happy with what we have achieved. As for the pond you mentioned, someone from it will have to become the leader and take the team forward. If I am that leader, I will be very proud. If it's not me, there will be someone else who will do it.
The captaincy has changed hands...what's your role in the team today?
Well, I don't know! I suppose I have played an important part on the field with bat and ball. Off the field, I have some responsibilities, like talking to the young guys, telling them how to handle pressure, motivating them, etc. These are the things a young player needs. So at the moment that's the role I am playing, I guess. The performance in the Asia Cup should spur us on. It's not impossible for us to move upwards now, but at the same time, I don't think it will be possible for us to continue playing at this level because Bangladesh cricket lacks consistency. But hopefully, we will kick on from the Asia Cup.
Also, do you see more Bangladesh players coming into the IPL in the years to come?
There are some young players who should be able to make the cut from next year. Tamim was part of the IPL too, but didn't get any matches, but we know that he can be a destructive batsman. It will actually also help if Bangladesh could get a full tour of India sometime in the near future.
I was going to come to that, Shakib. India was so instrumental in bringing Bangladesh into Test cricket, but since then there have been very few tours.
Yes, it is important for us to tour India. We have toured all other countries but not India. It will be great if it happens. It is a bit strange that we haven't toured India. But then it's not up to you or me. It's up to the cricket boards and the ICC. I think they will look at the situation and start planning tours to India, as well as other places like England and Australia.