A money-grabbing traitor. Those words, and worse, were directed at Kevin Pietersen almost a decade ago when he expressed his desire to play in the IPL. It was the first time that English cricket had really experienced the thorny issue of players wanting to choose franchise cricket ahead of internationals.
The ECB, initially sceptical and inflexible has changed its attitude, to the extent that England players are now encouraged to rub shoulders with elite talent from around the globe at such tournaments.
Yet an unresolved tension still exists, never far below the surface. The debate made the English headlines once again last week, with the realisation that the Rajasthan Royals trio, Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler and Jofra Archer, are likely to miss the first Test of the summer, at Lord’s against New Zealand, due to IPL duties.
In many ways it’s rather surprising that a similar debate has taken so long to rear its head in Bangladesh. Perhaps the infrequency of international fixtures or the general aimlessness of those in power, has to date prevented any real strain between franchise-hungry player and the cricket board.
That all changed when Shakib was picked up by Kolkata Knight Riders, the team with whom he began his IPL career, for the not inconsiderable sum of 3.20 crore (approx. £313k). When Shakib first announced his intention to play the entire IPL tournament and therefore miss the Tests against Sri Lanka in April, the initial tone from the BCB seemed to be consensual and even conciliatory. In effect they appeared to grant him his wish, without standing in his way.
It was only when the BCB president, Nazmul Hasan, gave his views in a typically forthright press conference that the whole picture emerged.
By saying that “no one is indispensable” the BCB chief displayed his characteristic exasperation when a more subtle, diplomatic approach would have benefited everyone.
The recent Test loss against the West Indies has obviously stung the BCB, but rather than carry out a proper investigation into what went wrong, the blame game began almost as soon as the final wicket of the series was claimed. Shakib’s absence for the next few months – he’s already opted against the current white-ball tour of New Zealand in favour of paternity leave – has merely added fuel to a smouldering fire.
At the heart of the matter is the conflict between allowing an individual to maximise their income, making the most of a time-limited career and their duty to their nation. No one should begrudge the wealth that a person’s talent brings but with Shakib it’s not always easy to feel empathy for his plight.
His life often resembles the kind of drama serial that millions are glued to each night across Bangladesh, and at times he seems to actively seek the limelight when the quiet life would be a more sensible choice. He’s always done things his own way and is undoubtedly Bangladesh’s highest-paid sportsman but in a country where poverty is a reality for many, his riches can scarcely be understood by the average person.
Interestingly, Mustafizur Rahman has reportedly chosen a different path. Almost nine years Shakib’s junior, his career is still on an upward trajectory, but t appears he is willing to sacrifice his contract of one crore with Rajasthan and continue playing for Bangladesh.
It’s quite a decision from someone whose origins are humble in the extreme. It’s hoped further opportunities come his way in the future and that he doesn’t fall victim to the inflexible new contracts that are being proposed by the BCB. A new clause will ensure that absences for franchise tournaments cannot be taken if they clash with international fixtures. Whether this proves counter-productive and accelerates an exodus towards franchise cricket, especially for those on the fringes or at the end of their careers, remains to be seen.
If we really have seen the last of Shakib in Test whites, his departure from the pinnacle of international cricket will not be viewed with fondness: limping off the field on day 2 of the first Test defeat to the West Indies, with the stark background of an empty Chattogram stadium.
One of the greats of the modern game, as his 4,000 runs and over 200 wickets clearly demonstrate, he will want to finish on a high. Despite shifting sands, great cricketers are still judged by their red-ball feats; a Test match winning innings will always remain in the memory long after the latest T20 century has been scored. Shakib will know this and whether he feels he wants to add to his legend, will be something only he can decide.
Jingle by Mog