Tamim paints a piece of history
Tamim Iqbal is a cricketer with a keen eye on his place in history, and on the fourth day of the Lord's Test he painted himself a memory so vivid that it may well be hanging on the walls of the Long Room by the time Bangladesh return for their next Test at this venue in ten years' time. In 94 deliveries of sublime audacity, he hurtled along to the hundred that he has been threatening in each and every one of the six Test innings he has played against England this year, and in so doing, inspired his young side to resist the inevitable on a wonderfully unexpected day of Test cricket.
A late wave of wickets redressed the balance significantly, and meant that - come Monday's fifth day - England will expect to be chasing down a stiff but attainable fourth-innings target, just as they did in a very similar scenario in Dhaka two months ago. But thanks to Tamim's bravado, and the surge of confidence with which his colleagues went about their day's work, nothing can be predicted with any certainty. England expected to boss this contest, but despite enforcing the follow-on, they have still been outplayed in two of the three full day's play.
At no stage of the match, however, have England been so devoid of answers as they were during Tamim's glorious gallop to his third Test hundred. A wrist injury might well have curtailed his series before it had started, but instead he shrugged off the pain and inconvenience to batter England's bowlers with a disdain that his fellow countrymen will happily claim as payback.
The savage strokeplay brought to mind Virender Sehwag, while a tip-toes pull through midwicket would have graced the scrapbook of Brian Lara, no less. But Tamim's greatest strength is his desire to be his own man, and on his watch, Bangladesh are emerging from their early years of timidity, and rapidly becoming an outfit that commands respect - not least from England, whom Tamim has now cracked for five fifty-plus scores in six Test innings, not to mention his wonderful solo century in the first ODI in Dhaka back in February.
"That's the way I know to play cricket," said Tamim. "I've always said that if I score while playing this way, that's great, but if I don't, that's fine with me, because I'm playing my natural game, and I'm very happy with the way I'm going. The balls I hit for four were in my zone and the balls I missed weren't. You need to survive the good balls and hit the bad balls, and for me, it was all about putting my name on the board."
All year long, England have had little or no idea of how to contain Tamim's force-of-nature approach, and have only been able to dislodge him through accidents (such as an erroneous caught-behind decision in Dhaka and a direct-hit run-out in the first innings at Lord's) or inspiration (two of the best deliveries of the winter, from Tim Bresnan and Graeme Swann, ended his onslaughts in the Chittagong Test). Their default tactic has been containment against a team whom they believe, with some justification, lack patience. But in Tamim's case, his impetuosity is a virtue, because he has the talent to sustain his onslaughts. "That's the way he's chosen to play, and good on him," was the dry reaction of England's coach, Andy Flower. "He's got away with it so far."
It remains to be seen where exactly the events of the fourth day leave Bangladesh's development as a Test team, because as they've shown in 57 of their 66 completed contests to date, their track record for lasting the distance in five-day cricket is abysmal, and in fact, they've only managed two non-rain-affected draws in a decade. But so far in this match, they have looked like turning a very significant corner, because they have fought back from grim positions not once, but twice already - if this were a tennis match, the current score might be 6-2, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6 ... and what happens in the fifth set all comes down to stamina.
"In Bangladesh, every supporter wants us to win all matches, whether it's against Australia or Zimbabwe," said Tamim. "I think we are improving in many ways, but we are just not winning. But as I've always said, if you start a chocolate company, you can't compete with Cadburys in the first ten years, because it's a big company. It will take time to be like them. Likewise, I can't compete with Sachin Tendulkar in one day, after getting one century. I'll need to work very, very hard to get close to what he has achieved.
The Lord's factor cannot be underestimated as the match heads towards its denouement. Although the advent of early-season Tests redressed the balance at the start of the 2000s, with juicy wickets derailing a succession of under-prepared opponents, England's overall record at their headquarters is pretty dire - just ask Australia, who hadn't lost at the ground for 75 years until their nerves got the better of them last summer.
Visiting sides invariably raise their game when confronted with the weight of history on display, and Bangladesh's battling effort in this match brings to mind the performance of Sidath Wettimuny and Duleep Mendis on Sri Lanka's first visit back in 1984. And more recently, in 2006, the Sri Lankans again provided the template for a great escape, as they batted England to a standstill after following-on, in a match that is memorable for the destruction of Andrew Flintoff's ankle in a futile 50-over spell.
"It would be a good achievement to draw this match, because we had to follow on and then we came back like this," said Tamim. "Three wickets in the day would have been perfect for us, but then we lost Shahadat and Ash [Mohammad Ashraful]. But Junaid and Shakib are still in the middle and very capable, and Mushy [Mushfiqur Rahim] and Riyad [Mahmudullah] just made a Test century. They are very capable. If they can make a good partnership and the others chip in, it's a good chance to draw this Test."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo.