Tamim confident of return to form
Tamim Iqbal cannot help but end almost every sentence of his the same way. "I believe strongly that sooner or later I will be back to my best," is the gist of what he is saying. By his fourth such mention in ten minutes, you can see just how convinced he is of breaking free of the poor run that has dogged him since the start of this year.
The Bangladesh opener has now played 13 innings in 2014, averaging 12.53 and has not made more than 31 in any of them.His last fifty came in the second ODI against New Zealand last October. He was just as poor in the World T20 at home, scoring just 83 runs from seven innings; a fruitless run which eventually led to his place in the line-up being questioned at least once.
Five years ago when he went through 25 innings without scoring a fifty, there were very few people who doubted Tamim's ability. A comeback was not anticipated as he kept giving good starts with the bat, enough to keep everyone satisfied.
In his current run, however, he has had just three scores of 30 and above. In what turned out to be his highest innings in 2014 so far, Tamim was looking in control in the second Test against Sri Lanka when part-time legspinner Kithuruwan Vithanage snuck one through his bat and pad after continuously drawing him out for expansive drives. The two other 30s were made with a neck injury against Sri Lanka and against Nepal, where he threw his wicket away.
Tamim got out of his biggest rut with a Test century against West Indies, which flowed right up to his best year, 2010, when he produced tons against England both home and away. The innings in Lord's and Manchester in particular stand out.
Tamim does not talk about such highs now, but said he is doing exactly the same thing he did during his last long dry spell- to punch above his weight.
"I used to bat a lot back then [2008-09] and I am doing the same now. I mean, I am batting a lot," Tamim said. "If it was something that could be fixed off the field, I would have done it by now. But it has to be done inside the field. I am preparing myself in every way, and trying above my capability. I believe strongly that sooner or later I will be back to form."
When asked if his place in the team being questioned riled him, Tamim was adamant that he would not let the criticism get the better of him. "I don't think I should answer this question," he said. "Those who are questioning my position, they can tell you whether questioning my position is right or wrong. People can say what they like, I don't get bothered. I have to accept it positively. I won't come out in the media and ask people why they are writing such and such."
Tamim's first innings of the year was a mess. Sri Lanka strangled him for 40 minutes before he hooked Shaminda Eranga down at fine leg for just 6. In the second innings, he couldn't resist having a swipe at Rangana Herath late in the third day, and was caught after toeing the ball. He would be caught six more times afterwards, either slogging (twice), driving straight to mid-off (twice) or giving catches to deep point and slip. He had also been bowled four times- on one occasion even losing his off-stump to little-known Tanwir Afzal of Hong Kong while trying to chop down to third-man- and was trapped lbw once.
Tamim insisted that he had not made any big technical changes to his batting, hinting that his current slump had perhaps more to do with the fact that batsmen get lesser time to recover in T20s as opposed to ODIs.
"I have not made any technical batting changes, and I have performed well with it. It is also not right to change everything just because I haven't scored in four to six games. I have made mistakes subconsciously, which is why I am now reviewing footage of my batting, and watching more videos in the nets.
"During the World T20, nothing was working. Afterwards, when I took the break, I really used it to sit back and realise what has gone wrong. When you do well in T20s, you are sure to be in top form. Everything goes right. But when you're not in form, there isn't enough time in T20s. Like everyone else, I went out and attacked, and it didn't work. In ODIs, however, we will get the time, and I will try to spend more time in the wicket."
Despite working very hard to climb back into form, Tamim is aware that these are times when he can also afford to simply take a step back and make sure his mind is alert and not cluttered with bad thoughts.
"I am a good student of the game. I try to learn from everyone. Mahela Jayawardene once told us that when nothing is going well, do less and do the basics. When you're playing well, do the maximum. I have gone back to my basics, and I am working on each and every shot.
"I personally feel that nobody would want to play with extra pressure. Why would anyone even want more pressure when there is already a lot of pressure? This is usually said about me after the 2012 Asia Cup when I was under a lot of pressure, and I scored four fifties. Just think what would have happened if it was the opposite?"
People close to Tamim have talked about how isolated he had felt the moment he was not considered as the stop-gap captain for the T20 series against Sri Lanka, despite being named vice-captain for the series. He was passed on for Mashrafe Mortaza, and also suffered a neck strain at the same time. Tamim played the very next game despite the injury, making 30, but was ruled out of the next two ODI tournaments. The neck injury turned into a tear and if luck had deserted him, could have put him out of cricket for a much longer time.
Tamim polarises opinion among cricket fans with his forthright views and batting style, but he has made it work from the start of his career. There have been dips in form, be it 25 or 13 matches long, but Tamim has always figured out a way to get back in amongst the runs. Bangladesh will be hoping that he can quickly negotiate his way out of this current drought as well.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84