If Saddam Hossain had not intervened, Shakib Al Hasan, Bangladesh’s World Cup captain and leading all-rounder, may have been lost to football.
Growing up in Magura, a small town away from the capital Dhaka, Shakib was hooked on football, a game his father played at the club level while a cousin had represented the country.
The only link with cricket was an occasional game with a taped tennis ball, but it was enough for a local official named Saddam Hossain to see the potential Shakib had with both bat and ball.
Saddam invited the young lad to play for his club in the Magura cricket league and Shakib responded by claiming a wicket off his first delivery with a normal cricket ball.
Shakib’s career took off and he is now top all-rounder in the official one-day rankings ahead of stalwarts like Jacques Kallis of South Africa, Pakistan’s Shahid Afridi and Australian Shane Watson.
This when Bangladesh continue to languish at number nine in the rankings ahead of only Ireland, Zimbabwe, the Netherlands and Kenya.
In 102 one-day internationals since his debut in 2006, the left-hander has scored 2,834 runs at 34.98 with five hundreds and 17 half-centuries.
He has also claimed 129 wickets at 28.80 with his left-arm spin, with a best of 4-33 against New Zealand in Christchurch last year.
Shakib, who turns 24 on March 24, has loads of self-confidence and is determined to outdo the other, whether a team-mate or rival.
“Whenever anyone outperforms me, whether in academics or sport, I tell myself that if he could do it, so can I,” Shakib told Cricinfo in a recent interview.
“If someone from the team is adjudged man of the match, I feel the honour could have been mine as well. It’s not jealousy - my team-mates’ success obviously gives me a lot of joy - but if he could, why couldn’t I?”
Often asked if he was a batting or bowling all-rounder, Shakib has one answer, as simple as his game in the middle. “I am a cricketer,” he says.
Shakib was a star performer for Bangladesh in the last World Cup in the Caribbean, where the minnows knocked out India in the first round and then stunned South Africa in the Super Eights.
But he goes into his second World Cup a reluctant leader, having publicly denounced the responsibility thrust on him since he wanted to concentrate on his batting and bowling.
The Bangladesh Cricket Board deliberated hard on the captaincy before appointing Shakib after senior pro Mashrafe Mortaza went down with a recurring knee injury.
His cricket-crazy nation, which co-hosts the World Cup with India and Sri Lanka, will hope Shakib continues to lead from the front.
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