'The World Cup was bigger than Eid' - Tamim
Tamim Iqbal has said being named one of Wisden's Cricketers of the Year is all the more special for the fact that he is the first Bangladeshi to secure the honour. However, he added, nothing he's experienced to date compares to the thrill of competing on home soil in the recent World Cup.
Tamim, who produced a pair of captivating centuries at Lord's and Old Trafford during Bangladesh's tour of England in May and June last year, was one of four players selected for the 2011 Almanack, alongside Eoin Morgan, Jonathan Trott and Chris Read.
"It really means a lot to me," Tamim told ESPNcricinfo's Switch Hit podcast. "It was always a dream to receive an international award, and an award like Wisden is special so I couldn't ask for more. But the best thing is that Tamim Iqbal the individual doesn't matter, Tamim Iqbal from Bangladesh is the biggest thing. For someone from Bangladesh to be in Wisden, that's the biggest thing that can happen."
Tamim showed the ferocity of his talents during England's tour of Bangladesh in February and March 2010, when he followed a brilliant ton in the opening ODI in Mirpur with a succession of hard-hitting half-centuries in the subsequent Test series, including an innings of 85 from 71 balls in Dhaka that, until he played one stroke too many against James Tredwell, looked set to result in a century before lunch on the first morning of the match.
However, his exploits in the return series two months later were even more remarkable. In his first Test in English conditions, he flogged an attack including James Anderson and Graeme Swann for 55 from 62 balls in the first innings, and then followed that with a blistering knock of 103 from 100 to become the first Bangladeshi to have his name up on the Lord's honours boards. The following week in Manchester he repeated the dose with a 114-ball 108 in the first innings, to take his Test record against England to five fifties in six innings.
"Before coming to England, I had no experience of playing in England," said Tamim. "Playing England in England is a very difficult opponent, everyone knows that, but I was working very hard on it, and when I came to Lord's for the first time, it was just a dream come true. My father used to tell me about Lord's when I was really young, so to score a hundred there, I couldn't ask for more. I was the happiest man in the world, happier than Bill Gates!"
Since then, however, Tamim and his team-mates have been on a remarkable journey through the 2011 World Cup - a campaign that encompassed memorable victories over England and Ireland, and a pair of depressing defeats at the hands of West Indies and South Africa, in which they were bowled out for scores of 58 and 78. Their failure to qualify for the quarter-finals sealed the fate of the coach, Jamie Siddons, whose contract has not been renewed by the BCB, but overall Tamim insisted that the team's memories of the campaign were positive.
"I am a Muslim, and in Muslim countries, Eid is the biggest festival you can get," he said. "But I think the World Cup was bigger than Eid. For guys who didn't see it up close, it was just unbelievable. It was as if the whole country was on vacation at one time.
"Before we started the tournament our aim was to win three matches, one against one of the major teams and the two Associates [Ireland and Netherlands]," added Tamim. "So to be very honest, we achieved both of those aims. But the trouble was the 78 and 58 against West Indies and South Africa. If we could have played a bit better, it would have been a perfect World Cup. Luck wasn't in our favour either, with West Indies losing to England when they were in total control of the game [in Chennai]. But all in all, except those two games, the World Cup was pretty good, I think."
The unquestionable highlight, however, was the thrilling two-wicket victory over England in Chittagong, in which Tamim's turbo-charged 38 from 26 balls gave his side a flying start in pursuit of 226, before Shafiul Islam and Mahmudullah hauled them over the line with an over to spare.
"That was a very important game," said Tamim. "We were bowled out for 58 [in the previous game], and we got a lot of shit from a lot of people. We wanted to prove ourselves with a win against England and we managed to do so. We bowled, fielded and batted pretty well, and after that a lot of guys had to shut their mouths, you know?"
The reaction to that West Indies defeat was one of the undoubted low points of Bangladesh's World Cup experience, after a section of the fans outside the Sher-e-Bangla stadium threw rocks at the West Indies bus as it pulled out of the car park. Tamim, however, recognised that such inflamed passions were unavoidable at times, given the weight of expectation attached to the team.
"The public are very different from England," he said. "These things are expected in Asia, because in Bangladesh you need to win everything you are playing. We don't mind because they still come to watch all our games and support us tremendously. We have no regrets and we are very happy they are still supporting us, and I'm sure they will support us throughout our careers."
There have been more setbacks since Bangladesh's World Cup elimination. They are currently 2-0 down in their three-match series against Australia, having been mauled in the second game by an extraordinary performance from Shane Watson, who rampaged to 185 not out from 96 balls, with 15 fours and 15 sixes. He was on course to become the second batsman after Sachin Tendulkar to post an ODI double-century when he ran out of runs to chase in the 26th over.
When asked what it was like to field against a batsman in such a mood, Tamim was utterly candid. "To be honest, I was not fielding the ball, the crowd was doing the job," he said. "That type of innings comes once in a lifetime, you can't play them every time you want. When someone is playing in that manner, there is nothing you can do, whether it's against Bangladesh or England."
All Tamim could do was sit back and take notes. "There are lessons to be learnt about how cleanly he hit the ball," he said. "With a very good technique, you don't need to hit with hardness, but keep your balance and hit big sixes. It was a thing we learnt and it was a great experience - not an enjoyable one because it was against Bangladesh - but in the end it was a fantastic innings, I need to tell you that."
With the World Cup out of the way, and one last game against Australia to come, the end of a long season is nigh for Tamim. But he is already itching for the next campaign. "Every new tournament we play, it's almost like a festival," he said. "The people in Bangladesh are crazy about cricket. If we can do something special in our last game, that will be the perfect finish. After that, we have a few months' break, then we regroup for our tour of Zimbabwe. Sometimes you need some vacation to get your mind right, and hopefully we'll come back and do something special."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo