Tamim breaks the stereotype
Until very recently, if Tamim Iqbal had to be described by a punctuation mark, you would have picked a nice big bold exclamation mark. You would have also been tempted to colour it red. It wasn't a difficult stereotype to arrive at. His batting was a scream of adrenalin and his life zoomed on the fast lane given that he races around in a BMW. The crimson '!' was the easiest symbol to settle upon. Things are changing, though. Maturity hasn't moved in yet but it is a frequent visitor these days.
Today, all the typical Tamim strokes - the audacious slog-sweeps, the thrilling hits over mid-on, and the numerous sweep shots - were there, but what symbolised this knock was the uncharacteristic military snap with which he shouldered arms to a series of balls, well outside off stump from Harbhajan Singh and Virender Sehwag. It was aimed at his past reputation, at the Tamim stereotype. One could understand the bowlers' plan - surely, Tamim will go after them and throw his wicket away? But it didn't work, as he kept leaving those deliveries. Ball after ball, over after over. It has to be a landmark event in Tamim's brief batting career.
There was a solitary moment of intrusion from the old Tamim which reminded us that no hasty conclusion can be drawn yet, that Tamim's battle is still on but the journey to self-awareness has started. He lunged across, fetched a ball from outside off and top-edged a slog sweep but it fell clear of a desperate Sachin Tendulkar at mid-on. It wasn't a brain freeze. It was just a relapse to his older self. The way he looked at that incident at the end of the day said much about him. "I knew Sehwag would try to bowl outside off to trap me and make me play a stupid shot. And I did it once. Just once."
A lovely smile lit up his face. There was no seriousness involved; just the naughty smile of a youngster talking about petty misdemeanours committed in adolescence. It conveyed that batting will essentially remain an activity of fun for Tamim and that he will continue to express himself; just that he is trying hard to add a slice of wisdom to it.
Tamim's new-found resolve could possibly be the influence of his coach and the youngster acknowledged his role. "Jamie Siddons was throwing his cap away in the dressing room! I knew my mistake and after that I played really well." More smiles all around. "Siddons has been the best coach we have ever had. He has really worked hard with me."
There was another thing that Tamim said, and did, that epitomised his spirit perfectly. During the tea-break, when he was still 21 runs short of hundred, he was involved in an earnest conversation with Siddons, just beyond the boundary. "He said 'no need to rush, just play your game and play as straight as possible'," Tamim explained. As it transpired, he moved to his ton in just 14 balls post tea. He looted 14 runs - a charged four, a lashed boundary, and a slog-swept six - from three consecutive Pragyan Ojha deliveries, didn't connect with couple of pulls and even charged out at a Zaheer Khan delivery. It was the very definition of rush. What was he thinking? "Oh it wasn't like that. I thought the ball was there to be hit, so I hit it." It brought laughter all around and confirmed his essential thirst for adventure.
Barring Zaheer, nearly all the Indian bowlers bowled at that characteristic attribute of Tamim. However he didn't oblige today. Only Zaheer, especially with the old ball which he got to reverse, attacked him with a sense of purpose. He got the ball to move in, took it out, and punctuated his spell with bouncers. This is where Tamim really sparkled. He picked the trajectory of nearly every ball; only once was he squared-up, by a beauty that left him. A screeching yorker was muffled out, the front foot was carefully taken out of the way of late inswingers, a purposeful forward stride met ones that left him and importantly, he played the moving ball late. It showed the innings wasn't just a matter of tempering his attitude but a show of skill as well.
There was another piece of evidence that showcased his desire for improvement. He scored 66 runs in the arc from fine-leg to midwicket, a majority of it coming from sweep shots. It is something that he has been working hard on in the recent times with Mohammad Salahuddin, former assistant coach of the national team. "For hours and hours, he bowled at me and helped me practice the sweep shot. I wasn't that comfortable against spin before. Even during this series, I have been working with him." Last evening, there was an SMS from Salahuddin: "If the ball turns just a little, sweep." And Tamim did exactly that.
There was a poignant moment when Tamim shared a lovely little story. "I dedicate this hundred to my father (Iqbal Khan); he did everything possible for me to play cricket and it was his dream that I should play for Bangladesh." Tamim's elder brother Nafees has also played for Bangladesh and hit a Test hundred, a match-saving effort against Zimbabwe. Iqbal Khan died before his sons made their debuts. This son has not only played for the country, scoring the fastest hundred by a Bangladeshi in the process, but also promises to play for a long time. "So far, this is my best knock but there are many more to come. I am very new to Test cricket but I am beginning to understand myself better now."
The journey towards maturity has started. From reining in his aggression with the bat, to sending his BMW back to Chittagong for fears that it might get damaged on Dhaka's roads, the 20-year old Tamim is threatening to grow up quickly. And it can't hurt Bangladesh. In the here and now, it has given Bangladesh a rare hope, which looked unlikely as of last evening, of getting out safe, and perhaps even getting something beyond mere safety, from this Test.
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo