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Feature

How Tamim Iqbal's un-retirement unfolded

Bangladesh's ODI captain retired suddenly last Thursday, and then took it all back in less than 24 hours

Mohammad Isam
Mohammad Isam
10-Jul-2023
Tamim Iqbal breaks down while speaking to members of the media, Chattogram, July 6, 2023

Teary-eyed and emotional, Tamim Iqbal retired last Thursday  •  ESPNcricinfo Ltd

Bangladesh cricket is back to its status quo. Thanks to the country's Prime Minister. Tamim Iqbal's un-retirement was Sheikh Hasina's doing. A lifelong cricket fan, she watches Bangladesh play regularly, on TV and sometimes at the stadium. She's always enquiring about the players' welfare.
Tamim's sudden, teary goodbye on Thursday afternoon touched a nerve everywhere. And when the news reached the Prime Minister, it was natural for her to get involved. As soon as Tamim received the message that she wanted to meet, it was clear he would have to un-retire.
After a three-hour meeting, all parties, including BCB president Nazmul Hassan, emerged smiling. And Tamim confirmed he was going to continue playing. Hassan welcomed his return. Mashrafe Mortaza didn't want the credit but he was influential too.
Credit where it's due though. The Prime Minister is a big cricket fan. Mashrafe is a former captain beloved by players. But neither are part of the BCB. They had to intervene when those in charge of handling such situations had failed. Once the Prime Minister heard of the issue, she reached out to Hassan and Mashrafe. Tamim responded to Mashrafe's call on Thursday evening, and they went to meet the Prime Minister on Friday.
The saga had begun on July 4, rather innocuously. Tamim said in a pre-match press conference ahead of the first ODI against Afghanistan that he was available for selection but his back had to be monitored, having had pain while doing gym work ahead of the series.
"I am feeling better but I am not 100%," he had said. "I can tell after the match tomorrow (July 5). I need to see how much I can cope. I am not going to do anything that makes the team suffer. The team comes first over any individual. I think I am ready for tomorrow. But during the game, if I feel any different, myself and the medical team will decide accordingly."
Tamim's back had been an issue for over a week, and it was no secret. The medical team was treating it. The team management certainly knew about it. Head coach Chandika Hathursinghe was certainly aware.
The BCB, though, doesn't work that way. Even though there are personnel employed at every level of their professional structure, all decisions - big or small - come from one place: Nazmul Hassan. It's the real version of the late New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, as portrayed in the American TV show Seinfeld.
Hassan's modus operandi affects the entire chain of command. The national team, its coaching and support staff, and the selection committee, are all under the BCB's cricket operations department in theory. But it is an open secret that players and coaches have direct access to Hassan. Some maintain that communication channel; others don't do it regularly. Hassan, for example, has a strong relationship with Hathurusinghe.
He also has good relationships with a number of cricketers, including Shakib Al Hasan and Tamim himself, and he monitors them regularly. But when news of what Tamim said about his back reached him, Hassan's response - an outburst - landed up straight in a newspaper. No channel of communication or his relationship with Tamim was used. Straight to the press. It's likely Hassan was upset that Tamim had not spoken to him directly first.
Hassan's interview was published in the Bengali daily Protidiner Bangladesh on the morning of July 5, hours before the first ODI against Afghanistan in Chattogram. He accused Tamim of being unprofessional and said that head coach Hathurusinghe was irate with him.
"The captain is saying before the first match of the series that he is not fit but he will play," Hassan was quoted as saying. "He is saying that he will understand his fitness by playing the match. It is not a professional attitude. I don't know why Tamim would say such a thing. I spoke to the coach who is not used to such behaviour. He is upset. Tamim has to tell us clearly what he wants to do. I will go to Chattogram to watch the match."
"I lost my temper at Tamim's statement. Hathu shouted at me for half an hour on the phone. Did he think it is a street cricket match? He is saying he will check his fitness by playing the match. Either you are fit, or you're not fit. The doctors can't find anything. The coach told me what he said [in the media]. Tamim has to decide what he wants to do. He is always unsure if he wants to play or not. He did it in the last match." Hassan was referring to Tamim pulling out of the one-off Test against Afghanistan.
Bangladesh lost the first ODI, a meek defeat in the rain. Tamim made 13. A couple of hours after the match ended, he informed journalists of a press conference on Thursday afternoon. The dots started to connect themselves. Hassan's words spread like wildfire. Tamim must have read them or someone must have told him. He then didn't score runs. Bangladesh lost.
The BCB directors who got wind of Tamim's press conference tried to contact him on Wednesday night, but to no avail. From what we know now, Tamim's mind was made up about retiring. Nobody could have influenced him at that point. He ignored all their calls. On Thursday evening, hours after Tamim's emotional farewell, Hassan tried reaching out to him. He then appointed the Bangladesh team manager Nafees Iqbal, Tamim's elder brother, to get the message through. Tamim stood firm.
Tamim's teary press conference had given us a peek into his mental state. For those who follow Bangladesh cricket, he was a symbol of how tough life at the very top of Bangladesh cricket can be. The Bangladesh captain is the leader on and off the field. There is no escape from the fact that man management is a huge part of being the Bangladesh captain. Many have succumbed in the past after failing to unite the team.
Tamim's welcoming attitude towards new and younger players is well known. He is also quite an open person. But in any case, secrets don't stay secret for very long in Bangladesh cricket. All the relevant people knew about Tamim's injury, and given the access Hassan has to the team, it's a mystery this issue went unnoticed. To his credit, Tamim didn't blame anyone in his retirement speech. He kept it relatively short, though his emotions got the better of him several times.
But when the Prime Minister invited Tamim for a meeting on Friday afternoon, things changed quickly. Mashrafe took Tamim and his wife to her residence in Dhaka. A couple of hours later, Hassan joined them. It was the first time Tamim spoke directly to Hassan after retiring. Had he done so earlier, perhaps things may have played out differently.
Tamim later confirmed that he was un-retired. He's also getting a six-week break to recuperate from his back injury. Hassan said he was happy too.
But what does it say about the BCB and the way it operates? The board had no idea what the ODI captain was going to do, and even if it did, no one could tell him anything. Is it because the only person allowed to handle such matters is the board president himself?
In the post-mortem of the Tamim tamasha, these questions should resonate in the BCB's corridors of power. There may be a six-week vacation from the talk about Tamim and his decisions, but when he comes back, it will be the same Tamim and it will be the same BCB. They will have little time to react to any issues within the team. The ODI World Cup is fast approaching and despite the bonhomie within the Bangladesh team, true leadership, at all levels, is missing.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84