Tamim picks patience over panache
Tamim Iqbal used to be a good fielder once. Now, he is one of the slowest movers in the Bangladesh team. Even if some light concession is made for the rigours of seven-year long international career, Tamim's fitness can be a cause of frustration mainly because he is only 25. While his team-mates spent times at the nets batting and bowling the day before, he was being made to run up and down the pitch in the middle.
However, Bangladesh had no reason to complain about the slowness of Tamim's innings on the first day. The opener shunned his often over-aggressive approach for a remarkably restrained effort, scoring an unbeaten 74 in 250 ball through the day. It may have not been Tamim's best, but in terms of the time spent and the deliveries faced, it was his longest Test innings and given the year Bangladesh have had, by far his most important one.
Yes, it was a first-day batting pitch on which there was zilch for either the seamers or the spinners once the ball got soft, but Bangladesh needed reassurance about their ability to bat long after the near-debacle in the first Test. Before the match, Mushfiqur Rahim had talked about playing for five days and had asked for more from his top order. Once he opted to bat, he wouldn't have asked for anything more than one full day of boring batsmanship.
In that sense, Tamim's batting was infectiously boring. It engulfed Mominul Haque, who played 101 balls for 35, and Mahmudullah, who was out after scoring a 152-ball 56. But it was the kind of sleep-inducing pill Bangladesh would have been happy to swallow after the Mirpur roller-coaster.
Since his consecutive hundreds in England during the summer of 2010, Tamim has gone 33 innings without a century before this Test. Those innings had come two years into his Test career and could have been the stepping stone of a smoother ride in Tests. The last four years have, however, been frustratingly static. And not just for Tamim, but for the team itself. He is one of the best batsmen to come out of Bangladesh and he has known it all along.
The problem for Bangladesh was that Tamim through the years has been consistently brilliant in his shot-making and frustratingly inconsistent in hitting high scores. In allowing their opener to feed his naturally aggressive game, the middle order has often had to deal with the loss of their top batsman and the need to build an innings at the same time. There is also the added pressure on individuals to be charismatic, and ambitious like Tamim. For a talented but inexperienced batting line-up, that is too heady a cocktail.
So it would have been disconcerting and refreshingly soothing for his team-mates this morning to see Tamim leave and defend. The only fielder in the deep for most part of the first session was the fine leg. There was a packed cordon behind him and only two men in front of square on the off side. Few of Tamim's drives were cut off by the cover fielder who stood back a few paces but if that irked Tamim, he did not show it. He resisted, and defended, and left the others alone. By lunch he had played out 83 balls for 27. Mominul followed the senior partner, playing out 75 balls.
Tamim lost Mominul after lunch, but didn't budge from his method. It took him 86 deliveries in the second session to score the 23 he needed for his half-century, his slowest in Tests. Mahmudullah joined in and made an attempt changing the tempo of the innings. That probably helped Tamim stay in his bubble. Towards the latter half of the day, he battled cramps, first in his legs, then in his right hand, but there were no cracks in his concentration.
Mahmudullah complimented Tamim's batting after the game, saying, "He batted very well, played 250 balls today. He might have had reached century if he had played his own game which is aggressive. I think he worked very hard the whole day and batted respecting the behaviour of the pitch."
It was a statement of intent on how Bangladesh were going to approach this Test. For once, scoring runs was not the priority, staying in the middle was. The expectant Khulna crowd waited and waited to let their team know they were there to support them, but for once, the batsmen derived the strength from within. By no means have they turned a corner or taken control of this match, but among the umpteen processes the team often refer to, it could be the one that needs perfecting.
Although they did not score many runs, Bangladesh did not lose wickets in clumps. That is immediately better than lots of wickets for not many runs, whatever the run rate. The pitch will break and will provide the necessary excitement, but till then, Bangladesh would hope Tamim and other batsmen continue to spread some boredom.
Devashish Fuloria is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo