On the eve of the 1999 tour to West Indies, the Australian Cricket Board met to decide the team for the West Indies tour. Most of the sixteen places were filled up quickly: after all, the Aussies had recently annihilated the English for the umpteenth time. A switch from a winning combination was unlikely, especially facing a vitiated West Indies team that had started a vicious downward spiral. The meeting however went on for six hours and most of it, one would guess, lasted around the inclusion of Mark ?Tubby? Taylor. On paper, things looked simple enough. There wasn?t a whole lot you could say about a player who had averaged 16.33 in his last nine Test innings and coupled with the fact that the likes of Elliot and Hayden had more than made their presence felt, Tubby?s time was coming to an end.
But one small but salient fact still weighed on the minds of the selectors: how do you go about sacking Australia?s most successful test captain who enjoys such huge support from players and selectors alike? The answer is: you don?t! Taylor was picked as captain for the tour. A few weeks later, Mark Taylor announced his retirement from all forms of cricket: a graceful end to a more than graceful career.
In a lot of ways, Bangladesh cricket has the same problem. We have a non-performing captain whose place in the test team is anything but guaranteed. Fans have turned against Khaled Mahmud Shujon and added to the fact that Dav Whatmore himself has demurred about Shujon?s place in the team, things are not looking good for our baby-faced assassin. But they should be. As the Aussie selectors have found out, performance on the field is not the only criterion for a successful captain. Does the old adage of selecting a captain from the playing eleven really ring true?
No it doesn?t, at least not all the time. Bangladesh?s most successful test player, Habibul Bashar, has never even captained his club side and is a renowned choker when the pressure is on. The one individual who has led from the front and handles pressure well, Khaled Mashud Pilot, was almost booted out of the team for his off the field behavior. Thus performance on the field is hardly an indicator of a good skipper.
What does count is what John Wayne would call ?true grit? which Shujon has aplenty. It has been tempting during Shujon?s captaincy to define him as much by what he is not as what he is. His tenacious leadership is not praised in the same terms as someone like Pilot; he has not been lauded as a wondrous tactician in the mould of Bulbul or even Faruque. But Shujon?s true grit has shaped his commanding on-field presence. Shujon is a natural inspirer of men, something his predecessors lacked. Shujon?s grit is true Bangladeshi grit: a fierce pride in representing his country, a belief in winning at any cost, and a genuine belief in the team ethic that states that the success of the individual is dedicated to the achievement of the team and the country. Shujon is a team man and in a team that has the ability to launch prima donnas at will, his presence becomes integral.
Shujon should not do a Tubby once his captaincy is reassured for the England tour, which it will. Bangladesh is finally finding its feet in world cricket and we need someone like Shujon to lay the foundation.