Is Babar Azam in the Fab Five? Does he join Kane Williamson, Steven Smith, Virat Kohli, and Joe Root or replace Root altogether? This was the talking point in the first test of the ongoing England-Pakistan Test series.
The debate will continue. In the meantime, I offer a counterargument.
Who are the true Fab 5 of this era? None of the above.
I argue that the Fab 5 of this decade is not a combination of stars. Rather, it is the core of a single team: The Bangladesh Fab 5—Shakib Al Hasan, Mushfiqur Rahim, Mahmudullah Riyad, Tamim Iqbal, and Mashrafe Mortaza.
The Golden Period of The 2000s
In the 2000s, each team had a golden generation or a solid core.
Australia, South Africa, and Sri Lanka had world-beating teams. Pakistan had Younis-Yousuf-Inzi. Similarly, India had Sehwag-Tendulkar-Dravid-Ganguly-VVS, NZ had Fleming-Astle-McMillan-Vettori, and even a declining West Indies team had Gayle-Sarwan-Lara-Chanderpaul.
Although Australia were the standout team of the generation, all the other teams had multiple match-winners and could challenge Australia on their day. Over the past decade, though, most of the teams have undergone a transition as older generations retire.
The Current Generation
Sure, Williamson-Smith-Kohli-Root/Azam are all great. They have consistently dominated the batting charts across formats both at home and abroad. However, teams consisting of a group of players consistently winning games over all the formats in the past decade has been a rarity.
New Zealand had a brief period of stability with the McCullum-Guptill-Williamson-Vettori-Boult/Southee era. Likewise, England were just beginning to develop a side that could sustain its dominance on one-day cricket before the pandemic intervened. Sri Lanka and South Africa have yet to recover from the transition, while most others revolve around one or two individuals.
Hence, the only team in the past decade with a golden generation has been Bangladesh.
The Team: Bangladesh Cricket Fab 5
Today’s Bangladesh team is a competitive force. Maybe even second best in Asia. It is no longer considered an upset when they win. This was not always the case.
1999 and 2007. Years that Bangladesh fans remember fondly.
Bangladesh first burst onto the scene in the 1999 Cricket World Cup (CWC) when they stunned Pakistan. Although that game caught the eye of the world and paved their Test cricket dreams, it was the 2007 WC victory against India that would usher a new era for Bangladesh altogether.
Mashrafe Mortaza rocked India with his opening spell and 4 wickets. Tamim, Shakib, and Musfiq all made crucial 50s. 17-year old Tamim’s running-down-the-wicket assault to Zaheer Khan was the highlight, and Mushfiqur stayed till the very end to deliver victory.
Wisden cricketer of 2011, Tamim Iqbal established himself as Bangladesh’s opener between 2007-2011. After a brief slow patch, Iqbal has become the symbol of consistency since the 2015 World Cup. Earlier in his career, he was known for his aggressive stroke play. As he gained experience, he has taken more responsibility and curbed the aggression.
Result: Test centuries and longer ODI innings. Accumulated hundreds in all formats, highest Bangladeshi run-scorer across formats, and the first to 10000 international runs.
- Test: 4405 runs, 38.64 average, best of 206, 9-100s/27-50s
- ODI: 7202 runs, 36.74 average, best of 158, 13-100s/47-50s
- T20I: 1758 runs, 24.08 average, best of 103*, 1-100/7-50s
Shakib is, perhaps, Bangladesh’s first cricket superstar. One of the best all-rounders of all-time and certainly of this era. Coveted by worlds T20 franchises and Ranked No. 1 in all three formats for the majority of the decade. He has rescued Bangladesh time and again. Whether it is finishing a innings, taking 5-fors as a hobby, or taking responsibility as No.3 at the 2019 World Cup, scoring over 600 runs and taking 10 wickets— he has done it all.
Records: Fastest to 6000 runs + 250 wickets, 2nd Bangladeshi to 10000 international runs, and more
- Test: 3862 runs, 39.4 average, best of 217, 5-100s/24-50s + 210 wickets at 31.12
- ODI: 6323 runs, 37.86 average, best of 134*, 9-100s/47-50s + 260 wickets at 30.21
- T20I: 1567, 23.74 average, best of 84, 9-50s + 92 wickets at 20.58
Only wicket-keeper to score two or more double centuries in test-cricket (he has 3), Mushfiqur has become the pillar of Bangladesh’s line up and an energetic presence behind the wicket. Short in stature, he has become one of the best players of the pull shot and the reverse sweep. Always preserving his best against India, he most recently finished the T20I game in 2019 to exorcise the ghost of Bangalore in 2016. Will go down as one of all time best wicket-keeper batsman.
- Test: 4413 runs, 36.77 average, best of 219*, 7-100s/21-50s + 119 dismissals
- ODI: 6174 runs, 36.31 average, best of 144, 7-100s/38-50s + 225 dismissals
- T20I: 1282 runs, 20.03 average, best of 72*, 5-50s + 62 dismissals
A late-entrant into the Fab 5, Mahmudullah is Bangladesh’s shock absorber. Has been involved in almost all of their famous victories. Most famously, promoted to No.3 in the 2015 World Cup, he scored back-to-back centuries. The turning point in Bangladesh cricket was the 2017 Champions Trophy match against New Zealand when he and Shakib combined a partnership to go from 33/4 to chase 265. Later in his career, he has become a finishing specialist. Also a handy off-spinner and astute captain in the BPL.
- Test: 2764 runs, 31.77 average, best of 146, 4-100s/16-50s
- ODI: 4070 runs, 33.63 average, best of 128*, 3-100s/21-50s
- T20I: 1475 runs, 24.18 average, best of 64*, 4-50s
Mashrafe Mortaza: (Koushik)
Debuted in 2001, the longevity of Mortaza’s career as a fast bowler itself is an incredible achievement. Began his career as someone who could bowl in the late 140s Km/hr. Ended as a line-and-length control bowler with speeds down in the low 120s. Started the fast bowling revolution in Bangladesh, but his claim to fame is his captaincy. Kept the team united for the last 5 years of his career, providing a period of growth for Bangladesh cricket. Also a handy lower-order batsman.
- Test: 78 wickets at 41.52 + 1/1 win as captain
- ODI: 270 wickets at 32.93 + 50/88 wins as captain
- T20I: 42 wickets at 36.35 + 10.28 wins as captain
What Makes Them Great?
The beauty of this generation is in the variety of the roles they play.
Tamim Iqbal is an opener. Mushfiqur Rahim is a middle-order wicket-keeper. Shakib Al Hasan their premier spinner and all-rounder. Mahmudullah the calm finisher. Mortaza—once the pace spearhead, now the ace captain.
They have all been vice-captain and captain at some points in time. Shakib-Musfiq-Mahmudullah have batted in all the positions in the middle order. Hence, the fluidity in the batting order and experience is why they have become a consistent team.
Regardless of the selections around them, the Fab 5 have been a reliable presence for the past 10-15 years.
The opening batting partners of Tamim and bowling partners of Mortaza might change, the understudies to Mushfiq’s wicket-keeping and Riyad’s finishing might come and go, others from Bangladesh’s left-arm-spin-factory might briefly complement Shakib, but these five themselves have remained a constant.
After India were defeated in 2007 CWC, South Africa also faced defeat against the mighty Tigers. Subsequently, they knocked out England in 2011 and 2015. They truly became a global force in 2016 with series victories against India, South Africa, England, and Australia across formats at home.
Recently, with the 2018 Asia Cup final almost ending in a tie, Bangladesh winning their first tri-series, and a memorable 2019 CWC campaign with an inspirational superhuman display from Shakib Al Hasan, Bangladesh have definitely elevated their status in world cricket.
Furthermore, Bangladesh U-19 team has shown immense progress. They went to the semi-finals in 2016 under Mehidy Hasan Miraz and last February, they lifted the U-19 WC trophy when captain Akbar Ali kept his nerve. The new generation of Bangladesh are talented and hungry to win.
Imagine this squad for the 2023 Cricket World Cup:
Openers: Tamim Iqbal, Mohammad Naim, Soumya Sarkar
Wicket-Keepers: Liton Das, Musfiqur Rahim, Mohammad Mithun
Middle-Order: Mahmudullah, Afif Hossain, Akbar Ali
All-Rounders: Shakib Al Hasan, Mohammad Saifuddin, Mehidy Hasan Miraz
Fast-Bowlers: Rubel Hossain, Mustafizur Rahman, Abu Haider, Taskin Ahmed
Liton Das has been earmarked as a destructive batsman for the future. The Fizz has already made a name in T20 leagues around the world. Saifuddin and Miraz have taken the baton from Shakib for the future all-rounder spot.
In addition, with Mosaddek Hossain, Taijul Islam, Sabbir Rahman in-and-out of the side and the likes of Saif Hassan and Rakibul Hasan waiting in the wings, this squad looks potentially dangerous. All-rounders, solid openers, variety of fast bowlers, and choking spinners, this squad has it all.
Mortaza has said on numerous occasions they are targetting 2023 semifinals at least. Maybe they will go far in the 2023 world cup. Maybe they won’t. In any case,
Whatever Bangladesh cricket accomplish in the future from now, it will be built on the shoulders of these giants.
What The Future Holds
With the advent of T20, overkill of cricket, increasing injuries to fast bowlers, mental pressure the players need to deal with, we may no longer have sides that play together for a long time across formats. Heck, we may now have different teams playing different formats on the same day, an idea Eoin Morgan recently alluded to.
What we can do, is to enjoy the final stretch of these players that have given Bangladesh cricket and world cricket whole loads of joy.
Sources: ESPNCricinfo (scorecards and reports), YouTube (videos), ICC (videos)