<
>

Fear of collapse helped Tamim and Shakib rebuild

Tamim was a part of two big partnerships while scoring his eighth ODI century AFP

Tamim Iqbal and Shakib Al Hasan had just taken 11 runs off Lakshan Sandakan's seventh over as Bangladesh moved to 182 for 3 in 33 overs. Both batsmen had been picking the length of each Sri Lankan bowler quite easily and were getting into the groove as they approached the slog overs.

With seven wickets in hand, both batsmen were in the right mindset to start the big hitting early. But then something strange happened. Tamim and Shakib simply knocked it around for the next 11 overs, accumulating a further 59 runs in a period during which both reached personal milestones.

If this were 2014, calls of selfish play would have sounded legitimate. After all, it was one of the worst years in recent memory for Bangladesh and even players like Shakib and Tamim were roughing it out. Bangladesh were losing so many games that year, that if a player was called out for playing for his place, they were mildly praised because at least they were doing something to stay in the team.

Edginess grew as it appeared that Sri Lanka were also quite ordinary during this period. They were not taking the best decisions, and the outfielders were giving away runs quite regularly. So what was making batsmen as experienced as Tamim and Shakib hang back for so long?

What seems to be a plausible explanation is that they were batting conservatively to avoid the pitfalls of the previous nine ODIs. Against Afghanistan, England and New Zealand, Bangladesh have given away good starts with the bat by losing wickets in clusters.

Even when they won games during the last three bilateral ODI series, they regularly had a period when their batting fell from comfort to panic, to be bowled out for a lesser total than projected. And such a collapse always came after a sizeable partnership had ended. It set complacency in the dressing room as the next few batsmen couldn't connect with big hits early in their innings.

It had even spilled over to the Test arena, and there was even one threatening to happen in the first innings of the Colombo Test. During this game in Dambulla too, a five-ball spell soon after the 90-run second wicket partnership had Bangladesh losing Sabbir Rahman and Mushfiqur Rahim.

Shakib and Tamim had to go through painstaking rebuilding to get Bangladesh back into the fight so they were not about to give it away. It was actually very smart batting if they were sticking to a predetermined plan, something Tamim indicated was the case as he set out to rebuild with Shakib following the double strike.

"When I was batting in the 40s, I thought I was struggling," Tamim said. "But if I had got out during that period, we wouldn't have put up such a big score. You must have seen Mashrafe bhai coming outside and telling me to play long. Not everything will go according to your plan when you're playing a long innings. You go through a difficult patch but you overcome it. Shakib played a superb innings. If he got one or two more overs, he would have got a hundred too."

The 11-over period from the 34th to the 44th sure looked ugly at times, as Tamim and Shakib restrained themselves. Tamim had the anchor role but Shakib too was playing conservatively. As their reined-in mentality ate into the last ten overs, anxiety rose.

That is until Shakib tore into Lahiru Kumara for three fours in a row in the 45th over. He hammered one into Suranga Lakmal's body in the next over before launching him over long-on for the first six of the Bangladesh innings. He fell next ball, but had shown Tamim to the unlocked door: now it is your turn.

Tamim obliged too, hitting two fours and a six, the latter of which came via a drop at deep square leg, a lucky break for the tiring opener. He fell next ball, having made a solid 127 off 142 balls. It was more Gary Kirsten than his favourite Sanath Jayasuriya, but it worked for both Tamim and Bangladesh.

He batted without any added ego through two very important partnerships - 90 for the second wicket and 144 for the fourth wicket. Sabbir got 54 out of those 90 runs, and at times Tamim looked very much like the background man. He is now a senior player in the team, having just become the first Bangladeshi to complete 10,000 international runs.

Once Mushfiqur got out, he had to keep the scoring rate intact while Shakib settled in. While it looked odd to see Shakib take 37 balls to find his first boundary, it was clear that both had a set role. As soon as Shakib was hitting them well, Tamim focused back on being the anchor.

During their fourth wicket partnership too, Shakib outscored Tamim by six runs. The pair added the 144 runs at 6.08 per over for 23.4 overs. What followed was also part of Bangladesh's overall plan, but seldom do two very fast partnerships follow two substantial ones in a Bangladesh innings.

Yet Tamim and Mosaddek fired 25 off just two overs before Mahmudullah joined the younger batsman to add 35 off the last 2.1 overs. In total, they took 60 off the last 25 balls, a very un-Bangladesh like ending to an innings.

Tamim said that he would expect anyone else in Bangladesh's top six to play a similar role in the future, if the situation demands.

"We know that in ODIs, one batsman among the top six has to carry the bat," Tamim said. "I have scored a lot of fifties but haven't been able to convert to big ones. I will try to make every good start count."

He said that scoring a hundred which helps the team to win has a special feeling, and he was happy that he contributed to the win by also being involved in two big partnerships.

"I am very satisfied," Tamim said. "We batted first in hot weather. We did all the hard work. Sabbir played brilliantly. Shakib and I had a really good partnership. They were bowling well during a period, and we rotated the strike and looked for the odd boundary.

"We planned our innings very well. Getting the hundred, and winning the game is the best feeling you can ever get."