It wasn't a huge surprise that Shakib Al Hasan chose Bangladesh Krira Shikka Protishtan (BKSP) as the setting for his return to training last month. At the time Bangladesh were still scheduled to tour Sri Lanka and it looked certain that Shakib, who is coming back from a one-year suspension for failing to report a corrupt approach, would be available for the second Test, so he needed to bring his fitness and skills up to speed.
BKSP, Shakib's alma mater, is where he learned to play the game. There is no better place in Bangladesh than this renowned government-run sports institute for an all-round fitness and training experience for elite athletes. It has facilities for 17 sporting disciplines, including cricket, football, athletics and swimming, and also competent sports science and physiotherapy departments. It wasn't just the facilities that Shakib needed, though.
At a time when he needed to reacquaint himself with cricket, he needed Mohammad Salahuddin and Nazmul Abedeen Fahim, his lifelong mentors and two of the most admired coaches in Bangladesh, by his side.
Fahim, who is now BKSP's cricket advisor, was one of the pioneering coaches at the institution. Salahuddin, who went to school and college at BKSP, was the chief cricket coach there from 2000 to 2005. After a stint as Bangladesh's assistant coach under Jamie Siddons, he became the first local coach to win two BPL titles. Currently he is the head coach of the Dhaka Premier League side Gazi Group Cricketers.
The two men have had a lasting influence on a generation of Bangladeshi cricketers who broke the mould to become top-level performers, among them Mushfiqur Rahim, Mominul Haque, Soumya Sarkar and Liton Das.
Salahuddin became something of an overnight sensation after he took a diploma in sports coaching from the Sports Authority of India and then, while being chief coach at BKSP, led the unheralded Victoria Sporting Club to consecutive Dhaka Premier League titles in the 2001-02 and 2002-03 seasons. He also took Araf Apparels to the Corporate League title in 2004.
"Daulat bhai [former Bangladesh cricketer Daulat Uz Zaman] had passed away midway through the season. They appointed me quickly and then we went on to win the title," Salahuddin says about his appointment as Victoria coach. "It gave me a bit more say in matters of team building and XI selection in the next season. These three titles were my big breakthrough. My confidence changed and I had acceptability. It opened many doors for me."
Among those doors was the one into the national team set-up. Salahuddin impressed Dav Whatmore, Bangladesh's head coach at the time, with his fielding drills when the team was training at BKSP, and in 2005 he became the team's fielding coach.
When Siddons took over from Whatmore in 2007, it was a delicate time for Bangladesh, who were under constant pressure to win at home and abroad, and to also prepare their mostly raw players for the highest stage. Siddons saw how the young players communicated with Salahuddin and their respect for him.
"Salahuddin was one of the guys I looked up to," Siddons says. "He had such a great relationship with all the players - they all have great respect for him because of their association with BKSP. He was really close friends with Shakib, Tamim [Iqbal] and Mushfiq. He is also one of the better coaches that I saw in Bangladesh, if not the best one."
Most foreign coaches who have worked in Bangladesh have noted the players' high regard for Salahuddin and often brought him in to work with them at training camps. When Gary Kirsten made a high-profile audit of Bangladesh cricket couple of years ago, Salahuddin was one of the people he called for a one-on-one meeting.
Salahuddin quickly stepped into the role of Siddons' assistant and helped the likes of Shakib, Iqbal and Rahim grasp the coach's batting philosophy, which among other things required batsmen to have a high backlift and to produce runs consistently.
"He was the go-between for myself and the players," Siddons says. "He got the best out of them and was a real driving force behind the team's improvement."
"When he was first reported [four years previously], Razzak didn't really fix his action, which is why he was reported a second time," Salahuddin says. "Everyone had given up on him, and many believed he would never play again. He was told that if he failed the action test a second time, he would have to pay for the next test. But Jamie supported him and gave me time to work with him.
"Razzak's desire and the support from everyone helped him come back. Normally a bowler struggles to find the same level of performance with a new action. Razzak bowled better after he was allowed back into international cricket a second time. I tried to build an action where questions cannot be cast against it again. He had better understanding of spin, and developed in many ways, including his flight."
Shakib's association with Salahuddin has run long and their relationship goes deep. He was Salahuddin's student at BKSP, and shortly after he emerged into the age-group structure, he played under Salahuddin for Victoria. When he broke through into the Bangladesh team in 2006, Salahuddin was on the coaching staff.
Shakib has always called upon either Salahuddin or Fahim for advice whenever he has felt low on confidence. He flew back to Dhaka from the 2018 IPL for a couple of batting sessions with Salahuddin when he found himself in a form slump. Last year he summoned Salahuddin to India when he wasn't getting matches for the Sunsrisers Hyderabad. Later Shakib said it was this particular period of hard work that prepared him for the 2019 World Cup - in which he became the first player in the history of the tournament to score 600-plus runs and take 11 wickets in a single edition.
"As a student, Shakib was unrivalled in his understanding of the game," Salahuddin says. "I never had to mention anything twice to him. He has developed an understanding of his limitations, which many don't comprehend about themselves. You will never see Shakib backing down from a challenge.
"I can spot anything different with Shakib's bowling action, which allows me to just nudge him in a certain direction. We don't talk a lot about technique. It's more about confidence and comfort. It has a lot to do with his mentality. At a personal level, we share a lot. We can say that we are friends, but it is also a little like a father-son relationship. We have leaned on each other when taking big decisions in our lives."
He speaks about a conversation they had shortly after it had been announced Shakib was the No. 1 ODI allrounder in the ICC's rankings, in 2009. "That day he stood next to me in the stadium and asked if I had anything to say to him. We had this way of conversing which was actually like banter. I said to him, 'What should I tell you? The day you become the No. 1 Test allrounder, I will have something to say.' It was banter, but I also wanted to give him a bigger goal. I think a player must dream big."
Salahuddin was unceremoniously removed from his assistant coach's role in November 2009 by the BCB, no reason given, and reassigned to the National Cricket Academy. He quit the academy role a couple of years later to go work at a university in Malaysia, but whenever he came home for a holiday during that period, the likes of Shakib, Iqbal, Haque and Nasir Hossain would seek him out for sessions.
When he returned permanently, Salahuddin found himself in demand among domestic teams, eventually winning the BPL in 2015 with Comilla Victorians - a feat he repeated in 2019. In between those two wins, the BCB very nearly hired him as a batting consultant ahead of the home series against Australia in 2017, before backing out.
Salahuddin looks up to Fahim as his lifelong mentor, philosopher and guide.
"We have known each other for three decades," Salahuddin says. "I owe him a lot for what I have become today. He brought me into coaching and gave me my first part-time job in BKSP. His one or two sentences have had major influences in my life. Even now, if I feel demotivated I call sir and it fixes everything."
Fahim is the Bobby Robson to Salahuddin's Pep Guardiola, and takes pride in mentoring Salahuddin.
"We may have similarities in our coaching philosophies, in the way we communicate with players," Fahim says. "[As a BKSP student] he saw [Sarwar] Imran [BKSP head coach in the 1990s] and me from up close, and I sometimes see some traits of our personalities in him. I know that he respects me a lot.
"I think Salahuddin has become a coaching brand in Bangladesh. He is one of our best coaches, which is why the best players and organisers come to him. He has proved his quality."
Fahim himself has had a tremendous influence in Bangladesh cricket. He was one of the first coaches to join BKSP in the late 1980s, a time when coaching wasn't remotely glamorous. Born and raised in Dhaka, he is the son of a respected banker. Fahim played in the Dhaka league in the 1970s and 1980s before taking up a managerial post in a tea garden in Sylhet.
"When I left my job as a tea-estate manager in 1988, I was contemplating going abroad," he says. "One day Imran invited me to see the newly built BKSP campus and asked if I would be interested in working there.
"I started to enjoy the work, and after I stood first [in class] during my [Sports Authority of India] diploma in Patiala in 1989-90, I believed I could do a full-time job in BKSP. I had an offer from Patiala, but I believed that since I was going to take up a passion as a job, I better do it in my motherland.
"It was an unusual choice at the time for a person from my family and educational background. Coaching as a job didn't have social acceptance. It wasn't an easy decision, but I think I took the right decision.
"On my first evening there, I was pleasantly surprised seeing how nicely the likes of [Naimur Rahman] Durjoy and others, who were 14- or 15-year-olds, were batting in the nets. The whole atmosphere of the place with the well-organised sessions and kids dressed properly, which was new in Bangladesh, really struck me."
In the wake of Bangladesh's seminal win in the 1997 ICC Trophy, BKSP found itself enjoying the government's backing, and in the forefront of the development of a generation of talented young cricketers.
Fahim left the BKSP in 2005 after a 17-year association to become Bangladesh's Under-19 coach for the 2006 and 2008 World Cups. When he was moved into an administrative role in the BCB's game-development department, he took charge of building a pathway that ensured cricketers from small towns and villages found their way through the age-group system. That pathway was instrumental in helping Bangladesh build their 2020 Under-19 World Cup-winning team.
Fahim, like Salahuddin, has continued to keep working with Bangladesh's top cricketers at an individual level, informally. He too goes back a long way with Shakib, having overseen his development at BKSP and in age-group teams. Although Fahim hasn't directly coached Shakib since the 2006 Under-19 World Cup, Shakib has turned to him time and again, including during the 2015 Bangladesh-India Test in Fatullah, when he video-called Fahim to fix something in his bowling action.
"I give him my suggestions, which could be about cricket or his personal life," says Fahim. "He doesn't need technical knowledge all the time. At times he needs a bit of mental support. Maybe there are things that he can't view from close range. It is not always that he asks, but there are times when I go ahead and tell him."
Shahriar Nafees, who has had a second coming as a batsman in the last five years of domestic cricket, praises Fahim's guidance highly. "He has been my batting coach since 2015. He is the most knowledgeable among coaches in Bangladesh. He is the best ever batting coach I have come across, and I have worked with many coaches. Fahim sir picks things up very quickly.
"His delivery of knowledge is succinct. One or two words. Initially I used to wonder what these one or two words meant, but when I followed what he said, I saw it fixed everything," he says.
Nafees tells the story of how he scored 342 runs across two innings in a first-class match, which remains a record in Bangladesh cricket. Fahim asked Nafees to think differently on the last day of that four-day game against Chittagong, in which he had already made 168 in the first innings.
"They were eight wickets down going into the last day, and the match was headed for a draw. He asked me what my plan would be for the second innings. I told him that since the game was going to be drawn, I would just bat normally, get 60 or 70 not out, because there may be 75 overs left in the day after they were bowled out.
"Sir told me that my plan should be to take the team to a position from which we wouldn't lose the game. Once you have ensured that, then bat according to the situation. He said that I shouldn't think about my individual score."
Nafees went on to make an unbeaten 174 at a strike rate of 83.25, much to his surprise. "I called sir after the game, and he told me that I should never go into an innings with a predetermined mindset of making seventies or eighties. You should never limit yourself, he said. I thought it was an amazing piece of coaching.
"He always tells me to get the enjoyment of batting. I think this is why I became hungrier and hungrier, despite not being in the national team," Nafees says.
Fahim and Salahuddin have spent tireless hours not only giving Bangladesh's best batsmen throwdowns but shaping their minds to make them world-beaters.
Siddons believes Salahuddin is the man for the Bangladesh head coach's job. "He has everything that it takes. He has communication skills, his ability to coach the skills of the game is probably as good as anyone in Bangladesh. He also has a really good record as a coach in the BPL," he says.
Time has far from run out for Salahuddin and Fahim. If Shakib's call for help last month is evidence, Salahuddin is in the prime of his coaching years. If the BCB is to make the best use of these two minds, they are just a phone call away.