They are the barrier-breakers of Bangladesh cricket, three players who have, by the weight of their performances, taken the side forward, at times dragging it behind them. It is unimaginable to think of the Test side now without Tamim Iqbal, Mushfiqur Rahim and Shakib Al Hasan – ensuring a good start, providing middle-order runs and taking wickets.
Tamim has the ability to dismantle the fastest bowlers with his attacking game, and yet be solid in defence when needed. Mushfiqur has been an example of how quickly a cricketer can grow to become the team’s leading batsman. Shakib has shown that a Bangladesh cricketer can perform consistently with bat and ball and stand alongside legends like Ian Botham and Imran Khan. They are the top three run-getters for Bangladesh, and have engineered many of the team’s successes in the longest format.
The first time Mushfiqur strode into the Bangladesh Under-19s nets, the coaches knew they had someone special. Shakib had attracted the “future Bangladesh team” tag from his days at the Krira Shikkha Protisthan, the country’s premier sports institute. Whenever people spoke about Nafees Iqbal’s talent as an opening batsman, uncle Akram Khan would point to Tamim, Nafees’ younger brother, as a far better prospect.
This was in the mid-2000s, when questions were raised regularly over Bangladesh’s Test status. The team lost by big margins, sometimes with days to spare, and coaches like Richard McInnes, Ali de Winter and Nazmul Abedeen were tasked with getting their golden boys quickly up to international standard. Tamim, Shakib and Mushfiqur established themselves in the ODI team during the 2007 World Cup and were all part of the Test setup within the next two years. While Mushfiqur had already debuted at Lord’s in 2005, Shakib made his in 2007 and Tamim’s came in 2008. They have played in 43 matches together since, and have been a part of seven wins.
Shakib grew into a middle-order mainstay for Bangladesh, giving them runs and wickets – sometimes, both. Additionally, he was the one who had to ensure a faulty start did not descend into disaster. Khaled Mashud had this role earlier but he had limitations as a batsman at No. 7 or 8. With 170 wickets, Shakib is, by far, Bangladesh’s most successful Test bowler.
Mushfiqur also emerged as a consistent performer alongside Shakib. He eventually took over the captaincy in 2011 and had a few good years juggling the responsibility of being the team’s best batsman, the wicketkeeper and their leader.
In January this year, Mushfiqur and Shakib put on Bangladesh’s highest Test partnership, and they did it away from home. The 359 they put on against New Zealand in Wellington was also the fourth-highest stand for the fifth wicket in the history of the game.
Tamim took on one of the toughest jobs – opening the batting for a team that has long been susceptible to seam bowling – and grew into the role with help from Jamie Siddons in his early days. There was a time when he wasn’t too comfortable facing the short ball. Now his one-legged pulls are a treat to watch.
Tamim’s aggression has also given the team a voice on the field. In a team considered timid for so long, his approach on the field has been a bit similar to former Sri Lanka captain Arjuna Ranatunga, who wasn’t overawed by the opposition and gave back as good as he has got.
Days before the side’s 100th Test, Tamim acknowledged the efforts of the previous generation of Bangladesh Test cricketers and acknowledged that he, Shakib and Mushfiqur are reaping the rewards of the patience shown by selectors and coaches.
“The guys who started playing for Bangladesh, they did the hardest job,” Tamim said. “They didn’t get the best facilities but with their talent, they did what they could have done. The younger lot came, which was myself, Shakib and Mushy. We got a lot of opportunities from the coaches and selectors. Now we have all played international cricket for the last 10 years and we have started to perform.
“This is the time for all the senior players to regroup and take the Bangladesh team forward, especially in Test cricket. We have taken the step in ODIs, we are doing fine in T20s but this is the format where we all have to chip in, bring all the youngsters together and take it forward.”
After years of trying to learn how to “walk”, Tamim feels it is time to push on.
“I always wanted to represent Bangladesh when I started playing cricket. I’ve been lucky enough to do so. I have a lot of dreams for myself and the team. We are at a very important stage. We crawled, we walked and now is the time to run.”