Tamim keen to end century drought
Tamim Iqbal has not scored an international hundred for two years and four months. During that time, he's made fourteen half-centuries in all formats. Now, a plan is in motion to help Tamim convert his starts into centuries, and it's already given him a spectacular start to the 2012-13 season, with three consecutive hundreds in the National Cricket league.
Chittagong Division haven't seen much of their most celebrated cricketer, with Tamim missing five years of first-class cricket since his Test debut in 2007. However, after months of travelling the world playing Twenty20 cricket, the first-class circuit is ideal preparation for a season of Tests. Bangladesh are likely to play seven Tests this season, and their first series is against West Indies, whose attack is sharper than the one Tamim faced last year. Moreover, because of the wet weather, the pitches at Shere Bangla Stadium haven't had the chance to dry, as was evident in the two NCL matches.
Against West Indies' varied attack on a pitch that is likely be spicy, Tamim's plan is to add more discipline to his batting. He believes it will take him to a higher level. He's been seeking this improvement for the last two years - a frustrating period in which Bangladesh played only five Tests.
"My only goal in this series is to bat in a disciplined way, the same way that I have batted in domestic cricket this season. Nothing more," Tamim told ESPNcricinfo. "In most sessions in a Test match, it is the bowlers who will be on top. A batsman has to bide his time to capitalise. If I can do well in bowling-friendly conditions, I can take myself to the next level.
"Test cricket is to test yourself; if you are less disciplined in Twenty20s, you can get away with it, but not in Test cricket. The bowlers test you mentally."
For Bangladeshi batsmen, the gap between domestic and international cricket is large and only a few have been able to make the transition. Tamim rose quickly in international cricket but was almost at the end of his tether in less than a year. It was Jamie Siddons, the former Bangladesh coach, who instilled a sense of responsibility into Tamim's batting and helped him open up his game on the leg side, setting him up for the next four years.
In those four years, Tamim mostly learned on the job against international bowling attacks, without going back to domestic cricket to work on technical issues. It is mostly scheduling that caused this, but maybe there was a lack of confidence in the NCL. His comeback for Chittagong last month wouldn't have allayed those doubts but domestic cricket, in most parts of the world, can't promise the same level of competitiveness for international batsmen, unless they are prepared to be proactive.
Tamim decided to challenge himself and add purpose to the exercise. He hardly wasted a minute on the first day, remaining not out on 176 against Dhaka Metropolis. "I wanted to bat long in first-class cricket. There was a target I wanted to achieve, that was to bat all day. I didn't know how to go about it because I have never done it before.
"Domestic cricket was a good place to start, so I thought I should try and do something that I have to do sometime in the future. I personally believe that if we play any cricket, it shouldn't be done without a purpose. Otherwise it is just a waste of time. So I was disciplined in all three innings for Chittagong, followed the same routines, and I was successful."
The three hundreds for Chittagong - 192, 113* and 185 - were also an exercise for Tamim to show restraint when nearing a milestone. He wants to slow down now, unlike occasions in the past when he tried to rush. He threw it away in an ODI against Zimbabwe, and crucially against West Indies last year, which cost Bangladesh heavily.
"I know how to score a century, but somehow I wasn't doing it. This time I have tried to change tact when I am in the 80s and 90s," Tamim said. "I tried to hit out of it, but now I want to wait for the perfect ball to hit.
"I think this is a reason why I missed so many hundreds after making 70s and 80s, I tried to play big shots. It happened here in a Test match. These are small things but I want to rectify them and the rest is up to the Almighty."
His next step is to bat with the same purpose against West Indies. Tamim wants to be fully prepared, mentally and technically, so that a failure doesn't hurt his confidence. "The bowling attack will definitely be better [than in domestic cricket], wickets will be better," he said. "But I won't be disappointed if I have done my part right and failed. I can tell myself I did everything possible. I'm preparing myself with the same game plan and discipline as I had shown for Chittagong."
Tamim's recent international form should encourage him; the four half-centuries in the Asia Cup are evidence of his growing stature as an opener. Those four innings, however, also underline what he thinks is missing from his repertoire. The Twenty20s have taken him places, but it will be his performances in Test cricket that will define the year for Tamim.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent in Bangladesh