Ben Jones analyses one of the great World Cup campaigns.
Bangladesh aren’t a one man band. They’re an orchestra. Everyone knows their job, their role, everyone has their moment to shine and their chance to step up. Everyone matters. But an orchestra needs a conductor.
Even if you just look at his work with the bat, what Shakib Al Hasan has done in this tournament is historic. Only five men have ever surpassed the 542 runs that he has scored in this competition, and those five are all, to greater or lesser extents, legends of the game.
Batting Impact is a CricViz metric that calculates how much a player has contributed above what the “average” player would have done. It’s a good indicator of when a player has scored runs at important times. Shakib’s average Batting Impact in this competition, 24.1, is the eight highest for any World Cup campaign where we have ball-by-ball data (1999 onwards).
What’s more, he’s done it in a very un-Bangladesh way. In this World Cup, Shakib has averaged 100.50 against pace bowling; given the depth, the strength of seam bowling in ODI cricket right now, that is staggering. Throughout their history, for understandable structural and climatic reasons, Bangladesh as a side have improved consistently against pace bowling. And yet, they have improved, consistently over time. Shakib has caused this, and Shakib embodies this, this movement from a nation blessed with a unique but unrounded skillset, to consistent all-rounder performer on the biggest stage.
Shakib has not done it in a particularly ostentatious way. Rather than the battering double centuries that Martin Guptill produced in 2015, or the relentless front-running of Matthew Hayden in 2007, Shakib has accrued his runs relatively quietly. Generally, his runs have come behind square on the offside, some no doubt the result of forceful cut shots, but plenty more the result of gentle glides, some to the fielder for one, some better placed just wide of them for two, three, perhaps four. His has been a campaign put together with subtlety.
Equally, whilst Bangladesh have had a fantastic campaign, the degree to which Shakib has outperformed his teammates with the bat is historic. The difference between the average number of runs Shakib has contributed per innings (77.43) and the average for Bangladesh as a whole (39.29) is the third largest gap for a World Cup campaign ever. Only two men, Kane Williamson and Brendan Taylor (both in 2015) have outperformed their teams to a greater degree.
Even on these batting efforts alone, Shakib is having one of the great tournaments. And yet his bowling is also the crucial factor here. It’s the point of difference between these historic efforts from other batsmen who’ve left a mark on tournaments down the years. Plenty of players have taken 11 wickets in a World Cup – 142, in fact – but the highest run total that those players have mustered was Neil Johnson’s 367 for Zimbabwe in 1999. Shakib has outperformed his bowling contemporaries by almost 200 runs.
If you combine average Batting Impact with average Bowling Impact, you get Total Impact. On that measure, in this World Cup Shakib has an average Total Impact of 36.3. That’s the second best figure ever, for any substantial World Cup campaign where the data is available.
It’s tough to talk about Shakib without being patronising to Bangladesh, who are a thoroughly accomplished side. They have a balanced bowling attack, and a batting line-up capable of chasing down all but the most terrifying of targets. They are not a one-man band.
And yet, such is Shakib’s all-round brilliance, he is capable of making it feel like they are. His skills are so influential that, if he was planted into any team in the world, he would be capable of making them seem like a one-man band, reducing their tune to the sound of his ever-present rhythm guitar. He casts a shadow large enough to cover many a cricketing nation, perhaps all but the most storied. It says a great deal that being labelled Bangladesh’s greatest ever cricketer still feels inadequate.
World Cups aren’t simply about determining the best team in the world. We all know it’s about creating memories, and bringing our collective attention onto individual matches that, given this greater attention, seem all the more important. The number of eyeballs on a contest increases the way it feels in our hearts – it shouldn’t, really, but it does. As such, performances on the World Cup stage are amplified. Sometimes the joy of that phenomenon is that those performances are from new, unrecognised talents, like Avishka Fernando and to an extent Nicholas Pooran. Sometimes it’s that they recall great performances of the past, of glories gone by, like Lasith Malinga. And sometimes, rather more rarely, it’s because it’s the fitting stage for a career that has, somehow, still gone unheralded. Shakib has had the World Cup that 32 year old veterans are supposed to have – immensely effective, charismatically influential, and cheered on by a vast swell of neutral support who have seen them shine on lesser occasions too many times to mention. It’s one for the history books.
Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.