'Bangladesh team is at its best place' - Tamim
Tamim Iqbal plays two critical roles in the Bangladesh side, that of an opening batsman and a senior cricketer. Over the next three months, when Bangladesh compete in three significant events, he will be essential to a team that needs its stability to be painstakingly choreographed.
Most of the factors that create equilibrium are coming together. Foremost is winning, and Bangladesh now do that quite regularly at home. There are more match-winners in the line-up too, which strengthens the team's mood. Still, the captain Mushfiqur Rahim and coach Shane Jurgensen have to carefully orchestrate the environment inside the dressing room and out, and that is where Tamim comes in.
Not only does he contribute top-order runs, Tamim is also a sounding board for the younger players and the go-to guy when the team needs a change of pace, socially.
At the nets, Tamim is usually the centre of attention. The adda is incomplete without him. His sense of humour is well received and he can strike up a conversation with almost everyone. At the crease too, Tamim is a strong presence and is as street-smart as batsmen come. He is Bangladesh's most successful opener and their third highest run-scorer in Tests.
Tamim averaged 42 in 2013 with three fifties but is not happy about the lack of a hundred in Test cricket. He hasn't scored one since June 2010 despite getting close a few times.
"There's no shortage of hunger on my part. I am making mistakes or maybe fate is playing a part in my quest for big scores," Tamim said. "But still I have time in hand. I averaged 42 last year despite not getting to milestones.
"I prefer that to averaging 25 after having scored a double-hundred. But at the end of your career the landmarks count and that's what pleases you. So the next time I get close to a milestone I will be more careful."
Tamim has the responsibility of setting up a solid start or firing off a chase, usually with a new opening partner in every series. He batted sedately in his last Test innings and had to defend himself for his strike-rate, which actually helped the team. Two months have passed since his 70 off 218 balls forced a second consecutive draw against New Zealand, but Tamim doesn't seem to be at ease with that performance.
What calms him is that he did it because he had failed to play such an innings when Bangladesh were chasing 245 against West Indies and lost. "The manner in which we couldn't chase 245 against West Indies in 2012 played in my mind on that day," he said. "I don't enjoy batting in that way, was never pleased. But I will always rate it highly because I batted for the team.
"We failed to score 245, so that fear helped me bat differently. You can't always bat as you like. Bowlers work on you constantly and as a result I have to step up every time. I was lucky to make 95 in the first innings, but at least I played my way. But starting well with the bat is very important for Bangladesh. If our top three clicks, a fantastic base is laid and we go on to do well."
Tamim has gone through several changes as a batsman and as a person and his attitude attracts many young players. He derives strength from his interactions with them, particularly those who work hard. "It is a two-way exchange even for a senior player," he said. "I enjoy this role because when I see them train hard, work on their fitness night and day, I want to do the same. I would not want anyone to think that I am far behind. At the same time, when the younger guys see us, they want to follow our standard. I want to take the performance to a higher level so that the newer players have something substantial to aim at.
"The likes of Mominul [Haque] and [Sohag] Gazi are helping us perform better as a unit. In the past a couple of players would perform, which never made it easy for us to win. You need one or two major performers and a few more who will support them. Now we have started to win games because the number of performers is more. Soon, I believe, the supporting cast would become the major performers.
"A new guy tries to give his best, which makes me want to do better. These factors tell me that the Bangladesh team is at its best place in the last 7-8 years. Shane [Jurgensen] makes sure the group remains happy, and that is why we like him."
When he is not playing or practising, Tamim is probably the most socially active member of the Bangladesh team, trying out new restaurants and taking his team-mates out whenever possible. On tour this role becomes more vital because players spend all their hours in hotel rooms after training. Tamim would search for restaurants, in London or Harare, just so he doesn't sit indoors all day.
"When we are in the hotel, we talk about cricket or watch TV. We don't drink or party," he said. "When I go on holiday, I feel hungry when I come back after a week. I really feel that a short break from the game is necessary to improve motivation and hunger.
Tamim believes staying fit over the next three months is vital for Bangladesh as they focus on the World Twenty20 at home. "The first thing is that everyone has to be fit. We will not get a minute's rest in these three months," he said. "Secondly, the biggest event is at the end of the three months. We have to do well in the World T20, and not just against Sri Lanka and the Asia Cup.
"We have to be at our very best, because if we don't we won't be able to compete. We can't win by playing a little poorly. Now we win when we play well. If everything goes well, we will have a fantastic three months."
He is glad that the weight of expectation is now shared by so many in the dressing room. Personally, Tamim wants to scale heights that are beyond the Bangladesh record books, but he also wants to remain the heart of the adda.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. He tweets here