If his bat doesn’t get you, his bowling will. Shakib al Hasan, the tournament’s leading run scorer, spun his way through Afghanistan’s top order to ease his side to within one point of the last semi final slot, and within one point of the tournament favourites, England.
When the BBC’s Test Match Special were allocating potential leading run-scorers for its commentator sweepstake, it declined to include Shakib. His all-rounder credentials, it appeared, ruled him out of contention. Shakib’s 476 runs, ten wickets and figures on Monday of 5 for 29 now make him the tournament’s standout player.
There was no century this time, as Shakib managed just 51 before becoming one of Mujeeb ur Rahman’s three victims. This was an unusual miscalculation for someone who has played only 16% false shots this tournament, marginally above the overall average in Test cricket.
This isn’t a man, however, who likes to miss out. Ten overs into the chase Afghanistan were 48 without loss against Bangladesh’s seamers, their most assured start so far. At this stage, Bangladesh had been 44 for one.
Just as Afghanistan had found spin the more effective suit however, once captain Mashrafe Mortaza introduced this discipline, the rewards followed. Shakib struck in his first over, dismissing Afghanistan’s most astute batter, Rahmat Shah, just as he was settling in.
An historically combative rivalry made for some pre-match posturing, but it emanated mostly from the Afghanistan camp. Like an older brother managing its pugnacious sibling, Bangladesh demonstrated the benefits of experience as they refused to let a slow and sticky pitch frustrate them.
Mushfiqur Rahim (83) top-scored as he combined with Shakib in a partnership which had proved so effective in their opening victory over South Africa. Neither went beyond a run-a-ball strike rate but having seen Virat Kohli and co. almost lose their nerve against a battling Afghanistan just two days before, neither felt compelled to, either.
By the 20th over, almost half of Bangladesh’s runs were from singles. The sole six of the innings came as Mushfiqur brought up his half century; a luxurious flourish to reach a personal landmark but the one time, perhaps, that he diverted from the game plan.
The first innings par score for ODIs at Southampton over the last four years is 280. But this is inflated by an explosive England side, hosts on most of those occasions. In this World Cup, it is 221.
So as Bangladesh brought up their 250 in the penultimate over, it may not have cemented the result, or extinguished the Afghan hope, but a sense of realism set in.
“We thought that we had enough runs on the board,” explained Shakib. “It was not a wicket where teams score 300 or 350. We knew that they had a quality bowling attack with good spinners. Our target was to bat a minimum of 50 overs and get 240.
“I thought that this was good thinking. We got 20-to-25 more runs than we were expecting. And then we knew that we had to put them under pressure with dot balls, which we did.”
Once upon a time the majority Bangladesh crowd would have come for the attacking flare and the single moments of daring. Now they expect nothing less than the win. And in Shakib, serene and sublime, they have found the man to guide them there.