Magura, BANGLADESH: Turning his star sports power to politics, colorful Bangladeshi cricketer Shakib Al Hasan is all but guaranteed to become a ruling party lawmaker with general elections on Sunday boycotted by the opposition.

Better known as the leading all-rounder of his era, the 36-year-old skipper has been on a whirlwind campaign for the ruling party of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

The result is barely in question.

Opposition parties withdrew from a vote they said would be neither free nor fair, accusing Hasina of ruling with an iron fist.

Shakib conceded he was not facing any serious obstacle to his election, but told AFP while on the hustings that the contest still made him anxious.

“The competition and challenges are always there, be it a small team or big team,” he said in his hometown Magura, where he is contesting a seat for Hasina’s Awami League.

“Even when we know we will win against a team, we still feel our heart beat before the game.”

Shakib’s campaign obliged him to take a temporary leave of absence from cricket.

He skipped a New Zealand tour where the team has shone without him, making history with their first one-day and Twenty20 wins against the Black Caps on the hosts’ soil.

Instead, he has been pounding the streets from morning til late, surrounded by cheering party loyalists and boys keen to meet their sporting hero.

But he bristled at the suggestion he would not be able to balance his duties as a lawmaker and a cricket captain.

“Did I retire?” he asked. “If I haven’t retired, then where does this question come from?“

Dressed in a traditional white tunic, he playfully lobbed tennis balls into excited crowds as teenagers broke through security cordons to pose for selfies.

But while the crowds out to meet him were cheering, the few thousand who gathered were relatively small for a sporting star of his stature.

Shakib is the only person to have been ranked the number-one all-rounder in all three formats simultaneously by the International Cricket Council.

He was a teenager when he was recruited to the country’s premier sports academy and just 19 at his international debut in 2006 as a batting all-rounder.

By the following year, he was already a star when he hit a fifty in a David-and-Goliath show against India in the World Cup — a victory still spoken of reverentially by Bangladeshi fans.

He has also garnered a reputation for ill-discipline, with a rebellious streak that once saw him threaten a spectator with a bat, and that earned him a three-match ban after making a lewd gesture to a television crew.

But his focus for now is the election, urging people to “work together” and to offset the impact of the boycott by the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).

Police have arrested opposition officials and activists en masse over charges of violence following months of protests that left at least 11 people dead.

The BNP says thousands of its leaders and activists have been detained, effectively snuffing out credible opposition in the polls.

For Shakib, what matters is not criticism of Hasina’s rights record but rather Bangladesh’s impressive economic growth over her tenure.

“I think Sheikh Hasina is a role model in the world, especially in a country like ours where there are plenty of problems,” he said.

Cricket’s immense popularity in South Asia has fashioned the sport’s top talent into some of the region’s biggest celebrities, and Shakib follows other captains who leveraged their stardom on the pitch into political careers.

India’s Sachin Tendulkar, who still holds the all-time Test run record, took a seat in India’s parliament months before announcing his retirement.

Imran Khan, who led Pakistan during their 1992 World Cup win, had a tumultuous term as prime minister of his country before his ouster last year.

Shakib batted away suggestions he hoped to follow in Khan’s footsteps, saying he was focused on his current aspirations and not “future dreams.”

He hopes his sporting appeal will encourage people to vote for him as a candidate, saying he was ready for a new challenge.

“When I started playing cricket, I never dreamt that I would play cricket for 20 years,” he said.

“As the time passes, the dream will change accordingly. If one target is fulfilled, then I can think about the next.”


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