Bookie who brought down Shakib Al Hasan

Feroz Shah Kotla was enveloped in a thick layer of haze when the Bangladesh team arrived for training on Thursday afternoon. For the third day in a row, Delhi’s air remained ‘severe’, recording an abysmal 410 on the air quality index. Bangladesh opener Liton Das took the field wearing a mask, saying it was a precautionary measure.

With their star all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan banned, Bangladesh too need to take many preventive measures as they face a strong Indian side. The all-rounder’s absence will surely rattle this outfit. However, it will also hand opportunities to some of the lesser-known players to step up on the big stage.

Since his debut in 2007, Shakib has been the pivot on which Bangladesh have hinged as a team. During the World Cup in England, he was instrumental in giving them a sniff of entering the knock-outs. Despite finishing with 606 runs at the showpiece event, Bangladesh failed to qualify because Shakib rarely found substantial support from the other end to match his scintillating stroke-play.

Das did not mince words when he said: “Shakib’s absence is a huge loss for us. He is the best player that Bangladesh has ever produced, and to lose him in such a manner before this tour will hurt us no doubt. Having said that, these things are not under our control. Our job is to focus on the upcoming T20 series and hopefully, if some of our youngsters can step it up, it will serve us well.”

Mahmudullah’s men will seek inspiration from their performance in the Asia Cup last year, where they marched into the final despite the absence of Shakib, who sat out of that tournament due to a finger injury. In the summit clash, they came close to giving India a scare, before Dinesh Karthik sealed the match with a sensational cameo. “It’s not like Shakib had played non-stop cricket for Bangladesh. There was a phase in 2018 when he sat out for more than six months due to an injury. He even missed the Asia Cup last year where we reached the final,” Das explained.

A-listers missing

Shakib is the not the lone high-profile player who will miss this India tour. Bangladesh’s incumbent opener Tamim Iqbal has also opted out so that he can be with his wife for the birth of their second child, while fast bowling all-rounder Mohammad Saifuddin has been sidelined for at least four months after a relapse of his long-standing back injury.

Iqbal’s paternity leave hands a rare opportunity to Imrul Kayes. The top-order batsman last featured in an ODI more than 10 months ago. His T20 appearances have been even more sporadic, having been out of action in this format since 2017. Apart from Kayes, Bangladesh’s batting in this series will hinge on their seasoned wicket-keeper batsman Mushfiqur Rahim, the belligerence of Soumya Sarkar, opener Das, and captain Mahmudullah.

Bangladesh’s batting may exude a semblance of hope, but their bowling looks short on experience and confidence. Shakib would have ensured four overs of parsimonious, yet attacking, left-arm spin. Without him, the onus falls squarely on their left-arm pacer Mustafizur Rahman, who has been quite a revelation for the Sunrisers Hyderabad in IPL. Like Kayes, the selectors have taken a bold decision to induct left-arm spinner Arafat Sunny in the mix. After intermittent appearances in the shorter formats, Arafat was reported for suspect action in 2016, which relegated him into the wilderness. More than three years later, and with a remodelled action, the 33-year-old now finds himself back in the cauldron.

As Bangladesh braces for life without Shakib, their fortunes in India will largely depend on this motley bunch, some experienced, while others are desperately looking to recalibrate their international careers.