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Tamim Iqbal: Bangladesh’s firebrand left-hander is the stuff matchwinners are made of

Tamim Iqbal © Getty Images
Tamim Iqbal © Getty Images

Born on March 20, 1989, Tamim Iqbal is one of the backbone of Bangladesh’s little success in international cricket along with Shakib Al Hasan and Mushfiqur Rahim. Abhijit Banare presents a career profile of the talented left-handed opener.

There is a different sense of joy in watching talented players ease through even in the most challenging circumstances. While some go on to convert the challenge into great attitude to become legends, some of them struggle to break the shackles in search of the elusive consistency. Tamim Iqbal is still making the transition and still has time at hands to make amends and be Bangladesh‘s best cricketer.

Early days

Coming close to the game was not a big task. When you have an uncle and an elder brother in national colours to look up to, the motivation to fight for a place only becomes more sweeter. The boost to Bangladesh came with the 1996 World Cup in the subcontinent and many like Tamim took up cricket actively. His uncle Akram Khan had famously secured Bangladesh’s berth in the 1999 World Cup leading the team in the qualifiers in the 1997 ICC Trophy held in Malaysia. Under the guidance of uncle and his brother Nafees, four years elder to him, Tamim grew swiftly. He made his presence felt in the Under-19 World Cup of 2006 with a sparkling ton against England. Amidst gifted talent, young Tamim also had to cope with the loss of his father Iqbal Khan when the batsman was 11-years old.

Tamim made it to the Bangladesh Under-17s and Chittagong Under-19s and progressed gradually. His first big score was against the Malaysia Under-17s where he hit 105. His good run of scores continued which included a 112 against England-19s. The 2006 Under-19 World Cup though wasn’t a memorable one. He scored a ton in the warm-up match against USA but didn’t fire in the league match. But the opener had caught the eyes of the selectors.

Style of play

This is one of the main reasons why Tamim is so popular. There have been many stylish strokemakers in Bangladesh, but there hasn’t been an out and out aggressive batsman. His attacking style of play has forced even the best pacers to err with their length. One of the strokes which has a unique identity of Tamim is the hop down the wicket and slapping the ball through mid-off and extra-cover. It has all the left-hander’s elegance filled in it. Like most batsmen, Tamim has a good bottom hand and as a result, his punches through backfoot are equally powerful to send the ball past boundary. His weakness though reminds you of what plagued a right-handed Virender Sehwag. Tamim’s tendency to go for the strokes on the up and away from the body, and limited feet movement against pacers often did him in.

Like with most aggressive batsmen, Tamim has been erratic and it reflects in his averages in the One-Day Internationals (ODIs) and Tests. For someone who opens the batting and has played over 100 ODIs, the average of around 30 doesn’t give a healthy record. Most subcontinent teams are reliant on their batting and it’s no different for Bangladesh. And Tamim has a lot to contribute. Like with most talented players, the selectors choose to persist with him having seen his potential. And Tamim surely has to manage his temperament to complement his gifted style of play.

Debut

An year after his Under-19 World Cup appearance, Tamim made it to the national team with the ODI debut against Zimbabwe in February 2007. He managed just five in his first innings for Bangladesh. The Test debut came a year later at Dunedin against New Zealand where he scored half centuries in both the innings. His impressive debut further enhanced his reputation as an opener. The T20 debut came in the same year against Kenya in a Quadrangular tournament where he managed 11.

Young Tamim humiliates India, March 2007

No Indian fan is ever going to forget the dusky day in the Caribbean Islands of March 2007. India were already under pressure to defend 191 they managed to post in their opening encounter. And Tamim added fore salt to injury taking on the team’s strike bowler, Zaheer Khan. Tamim was just 17 at the time but not short of any confidence. He was unperturbed by Zaheer’s short balls. With 55 from 53 balls, including seven boundaries and two sixes, Tamim had forced India to panic.

This was not the only occasion of Tamim’s brilliance against India. In the next edition of the World Cup, India took the sweet revenge by winning the encounter, not before Tamim smashed 70 and gave a scare once again.

His career-best Test performance so far has also come against India. In January 2010, in the second Test at Dhaka, Tamim scored 151 in the second innings. It was a pressure situation as Bangladesh were trailing by 233. But none of it disturbed Tamim as he went about exhibiting an array of strokes. The Zaheer-Tamim duel continued here as well; with the left-hander clobbering a few. It was Tamim’s second Test ton with the first one being scored a six months before against West Indies.

Tamim Iqbal celebrates his century at Lord's during Bangladesh's tour of England in 2010 © Getty Images
Tamim Iqbal celebrates his century at Lord’s during Bangladesh’s tour of England in 2010 © Getty Images

Lord’s century and the Wisden recognition

Dreaming of playing at Lord’s is one thing and scoring centuries is something else. Bangladesh had travelled to England with the first of the two Tests scheduled at Lord’s. Tamim had injured his wrists during the World T20 2010 a month before. He chose to put his injury at stake to feature in the match. England had piled on 505 in their first essay. Bangladesh limped to 282 with Tamim scoring 55 before being run-out. Following on with a deficit of 223, Tamim and his team was already staring at big defeat. The left-hander played like a typical aggressive batsman, going after everything and playing flashy strokes. Fortunately, he survived and went from strength to strength. As with many subcontinent batsmen, spin is a mode of scoring than being tied down. Off-spinner Graeme Swann came under some special treatment from Tamim. He completed his century to become the first to achieve so in England and etched his name on the honours board. Bangladesh, though went down by eight wickets. Tamim fell for 103.

In the next match which was a rain-affected one at Old Trafford, the left-hander was at it again, playing with the same intensity and aggression to score a run-a-ball 108. But the overall scene was similar to the Lord’s encounter, with England piling on the runs and Bangladesh going down by an innings and 80 runs. While we speak of his brilliant innings, he was just 21 years-old at that time. This was enough evidence to prove the spectacular talent he boasted of.

This performance abroad was just a part two of what preceded in the home series against the same opposition. He smashed 125 in the first of the three ODIs and hit three half-centuries in the two-Test series.

Tamim’s exploits earned him the recognition of Wisden Test Cricketer of the year and was named as one of the four other nominees alongside Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott and Eoin Morgan in the edition published in 2011. Thereby, Tamim became the second Bangladeshi player after Shakib Al Hasan to win the award.

But ever since then, the century draught has haunted Tamim time and again. He crossed the fifty mark on six occasions but failed to convert them. The closest he got was an uncharacteristic 95 against New Zealand at Dhaka in October 2013 which saw the defensive side of Tamim.

Below is a video of Tamim’s career-best ODI performance scoring 154 against Zimbabwe in August, 2009 at Bulawayo.

T20 bonanza

Aggressive players are always in demand in the T20 leagues which bloomed everywhere since the success of Indian Premier League (IPL).In fact, in February 2011 Tamim expressed that he was surprised why Mumbai Indians did not pick him up (despite the fact that Sachin Tendulkar had promised to look into the matter himself). Tamim signed up for Wellington Firebirds in the HRV Cup in October 2012. Earlier in the year, he was picked by the Pune Warriors India but warmed the benches for the entire season watching his team falter to defeat after defeat. In the first season of Bangladesh Premier League (BPL) in 2012, he played for Chittagong Kings but missed most of the matches and ended up in a pay dispute with the franchise owners. He signed up with Duronto Rajshahi in the next season. In June 2011, Tamim signed up with Nottinghamshire for the Friend’s Life T20 replacing David Hussey. He became the second Bangladeshi player in the county league with Shakib firmly placed in the Worcestershire team at that time.

In July , 2013, Tamim married his childhood friend Ayesha Siddiqua.

Stepping down from vice-captaincy in 2014

Earlier this year, Tamim shocked the selectors by stepping down as vice-captain of the team midway through the series against Sri Lanka at home. Tamim cited his wish to focus on batting as the reason. The selectors were forced to handover the role to fellow senior player, Mashrafe Mortaza. With regular limited overs skipper Mushfiqur Rahim injured, Mortaza led Bangladesh. Tamim was first appointed vice-captain in December 2010 replacing Mushfiqur.

At 24, Tamim has firmly planted his value in the team. Without him, Bangladesh’s chances of winning takes a nosedive. And in his presence, there is an assuring factor of quick runs early on. But even Tamim realises that he his talented enough to contribute more handsomely in the progress of Bangladesh. Shakib has already turned out to be the player consistently living up to the pressure and expectations, it’s time for Tamim to bat up.

(Abhijit Banare is a reporter at CricketCountry. He is an avid quizzer and loves to analyse and dig out interesting facts which allows him to learn something new every day. Apart from cricket he also likes to keep a sharp eye on Indian politics, and can be followed on Twitter and blog)

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