Shakib Al Hasan, the national cricketing hero of Bangladesh, has been donning the cap of the ICC's no 1 all-rounder for about a decade, and is the second most valuable player of the century, according to Wisden Cricketers' Almanack. The height to which he has pulled the nation, in cricket, is unsurpassable.
However, controversy has often followed him or, should we say, he is often pushed towards controversy. Of course, like many sporting celebrities, he is not free of temper, whims and follies.
He is now back in it again, right after coming out of the dark hole of a notorious ban, a consequence of a gambling trap plotted by an Indian bookie named Agarwal. As I said in another write-up, the ban came as a harsh blow – though justifiable.
Though I am not advocating Shakib's impunity, the course of investigation should also look into possible sabotage. Cricket matches are like sporting war, hence, when a player or a country dominates, it is a common war strategy to cripple or weaken a strong enemy.
Sometimes sporting rivalry becomes dirty when, instead of defeating the team, the so-called "enemy" – in this case, Shakib – is repeatedly injured, intimidated, threatened, and trapped. If Shakib loses or is injured or banned, who wins? The simple answer is – not Bangladesh, but its cricketing rivals. We also know that once you ban or manage to ban a cricketer from international cricket, their morale goes down.
Age matters in sports and after a certain age, we cannot expect the best from the players. Is there any attempt to wear Shakib out with slow-poisoning intimidation? Such suspicions gain ground when recently, as media outlets report and Shakib himself claims, he was forcefully approached for a selfie by a rash fan in the time of a global pandemic, a moment that demands social distancing, not physical contact.
Of course, smashing that fan's mobile phone is unfortunate, imprudent and not sober. The story could have stopped there, but it did not. A viral video of an extremist individual came onto the scene, where he vows to kill Shakib for his so-called "blasphemy", because Shakib reportedly went to India to inaugurate Kali Puja, an act which, that individual claims, "hurts Muslims."
While this has never been the shared sentiment of common Bangladeshis, international media have once again got another bullet to aim at Bangladesh, following the recent controversial anti-France demonstrations.
Bangladeshi law enforcement agencies' prompt action in this matter, to hunt down this extremist, is the value that Bangladesh shares as a nation. Any individual's "attempt to destroy communal harmony" does not represent the real Bangladesh. As of 17 November, that individual has been arrested.
The Shakib issue has now become a double-edged sword because of the intimidation of the national sporting hero and tarnishing of the national image of a country. Without delay, the news of this viral video helped portray a "medieval" image of a Bangladesh, a country where its national sporting hero is threatened to be beheaded by radicals; not a very comforting image for a country that does not have a track record of state endorsement of communal hatred and attempt to defame a religious community.
As a cultural diplomatic move, I won't be surprised if Shakib is offered citizenship or asylum from a country with a vested interest, claiming to be the safe-haven of endangered national heroes from other countries. What an individual or an individual group does, or believes, does not necessarily represent Bangladesh. Hence, once Shakib is out of the game and Bangladesh is depicted as a fundamentalist country, we very well know who will win – its competitors.
While Shakib's arrogant attitude may be subject to public reprimand, taking into account his affectionate place in the hearts of cricket-loving Bangladeshis, it is of national interest to investigate thoroughly why he or Bangladeshi cricket is being attacked. Any attempt at sabotage cannot be waived off.
Kazi Ashraf Uddin is an Associate Professor at the Department of English of Jahangirnagar University.