Shakib Al Hasan, Bangladesh’s former captain, has a problem — let’s call it ‘Dan Vettori Syndrome.’ He is, without a doubt, the best player in his squad. And he clearly knows it; he has made it a habit of routinely stepping up to the crease with bat and ball when his fellow players do not. Take a look at the stats: in Tests, he averages in the low 30s with the ball and the bat (and he has seven five-wicket hauls); in ODIs, he scores 35 on average, and takes wickets at 28. (And he’s only 24!)
But like Dan Vettori, Hasan’s efforts usually don’t earn results. That’s because their teams are largely mediocre. So the issue is this: what do you do when you have a singular talent in the midst of mediocrity? Someone like Chris Gayle reacted to this problem by shrugging his shoulders and dispensing his talent only when he saw fit. (This attitude — which included giving the middle finger to his board of cricket — only makes sense now that lucrative T20 contracts are available.) Others, like Brian Lara and Sachin Tendulkar, tried to hold up the entire team on their shoulders, either to stall the inevitable (Lara’s case), or to wait until better talent arrived (Tendulkar’s).
The problem for Hasan and Vettori is that they are all-rounders. Now this may be a completely unscientific prejudice on my part, but if you have a star player, wouldn’t you want him to be a star batsman (or bowler)? All-rounders are great; they inspire and rescue your team from trouble, but I don’t see them building squads or getting results. By the time Shakib comes to bat, for example, the most he can do is try to put on a respectable score; he can’t do the top order’s job of dominating the game. In other words, I’d rather have a 50-average batsman, or a strike bowler of Dale Steyn or Zaheer Khan quality, rather than a 30-and-30 all-rounder. [Feel free to tell me I’m an idiot in the comments.]
So what should Hasan or Vettori do? Vettori can’t wait until better talent to emerge, because New Zealand’s small pool may not deliver. Both can make more money through the IPL and elsewhere, but Hasan could imagine a scenario wherein Bangladesh become a threatening squad in another 10 years (and by that time, at 34, he’d be ideally placed to lead). Perhaps he could do what Tendulkar did — inspire the Rainas, Kohlis and Sharmas — and stick around long enough to see his team lift the World Cup trophy.
On your observation about all-rounders in weak teams: could it be that one of the features of a strong team is that it enables its most talented players to specialise? Wouldn’t Broad and Swann have more of a role with the bat for Bangladesh? Maybe KP and Trott would bowl more for Zimbabwe? It’s only very exceptional cricketers who realise their potential in both disciplines and carrying the burden of both, Hasan and Vettori may underachieve on both sides.