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Feature

Tamim Iqbal slips out the side door after rare taste of English hospitality

That Tamim is unlikely to play in England again is indicative of his side's treatment by the big teams

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller
15-May-2023
Tamim Iqbal made a half-century as Bangladesh sealed the series with Ireland 2-0  •  Andrew Miller/ESPNcricinfo Ltd

Tamim Iqbal made a half-century as Bangladesh sealed the series with Ireland 2-0  •  Andrew Miller/ESPNcricinfo Ltd

The cry went up from the stands. "Tamim! [Thump, thump, thump] Tamim!"
It was the sound of an adoring, optimistic, expectant public - the type that Tamim Iqbal has taken in his stride throughout his 16 years as a Bangladesh cricketer. Despite being made up of an overwhelmingly England-based crowd, the passion was as fervent as you might have expected for a day-night fixture at Mirpur, and afterwards, Tamim's delight at his side's thrilling five-run victory over Ireland reflected the true sense of occasion they had lived through.
But then, as he addressed the impact that the crowd had had in an entertaining 2-0 series win, Tamim let slip a moment of candour that rather stopped the attending media in its tracks.
"The support here is always special," he said. "I am not sure if I will be playing in England again. We don't have any matches scheduled here for the next three or four years. Probably this was my last game here, so I really enjoyed it."
There was not a word of hyperbole in Tamim's statement, but it was a jarring admission of career mortality nonetheless - and one that deserves, to judge by the euphoric scenes that accompanied his team's performance, to be accompanied by a huge dollop of administrative regret.
For if ever there was a player who embodied the youth, optimism and potential of Bangladesh, it is Tamim. Self-evidently, he has evolved as a cricketer and a character since he burst onto the international scene at the 2007 World Cup: as much than anything, it has been his duty - alongside his fellow veterans, Shakib Al Hasan and Mushfiqur Rahim - to develop the worldly wisdom that simply did not exist until they (and others alongside them) had grown into the job. And to that end, it was a somewhat downbeat 69 from 82 balls in this latest ODI, Tamim's first half-century in 10 innings, that underpinned his side's series-sealing win at Chelmsford.
But in the mind's eye, Tamim could still be that fearless 17-year-old, skittering down the track to Zaheer Khan at Trinidad, and slapping him for one of the most preposterous sixes of a century that has since been over-run with them. Or he could be that ebullient 21-year-old, leaping in joy and triumph at Lord's in 2010, while signalling for the dressing-room to etch his name onto the Lord's Honours Boards, after carting Tim Bresnan into the MCC members for a stunning 94-ball hundred.
Or he could be the kid who, a week later at Old Trafford, repeated the dose with arguably an even more extraordinary performance - a run-a-ball hundred in the second Test, where his fellow opener Imrul Kayes made 36 and no other batter managed more than 11.
"We don't have any cricket here in the next three or four years. I did something special in my first tour here. This being my last tour, I wanted to do something special. I couldn't do it, but it was nice to get some runs to make it a memorable occasion"
Tamim would only have been human had he over-reached in attempting to live up to such standards on his next visit to England for the Champions Trophy in 2017, but not a bit of it. Consecutive innings of 128 and 95 against England and Australia set the agenda for his team's unlikely qualification for the semi-finals, and though Bangladesh were never really in the running for the World Cup knockouts two years later, three wins in eight completed fixtures - including the scalps of South Africa and West Indies - was no disgrace.
But then, without warning, the tale of the tape ends. Four more years have since elapsed, and now suddenly, with a century there for the taking at Essex's County Ground, a skied slap falls into the hands of Ireland's Craig Young at short third man, the fans cease their chanting as one in that familiar inhalation of the ground's atmospherics, and Bangladesh's most evocative batter takes leave of perhaps his favourite overseas stage for what he understandably expects will be the very last time.
"I was a bit disappointed," Tamim admitted afterwards. "I should have continued from that position. I would have been really happy if I could have made it big today. When you have a long career, you will see lots of ups and downs. I wasn't at my best in the last two or three series. But I always had the belief that I was one game away [from coming back to form].
"It is quite sad, definitely," he added. "We don't have any cricket here in the next three or four years. I did something special in my first tour here. This being my last tour, I wanted to do something special. I couldn't do it, but it was nice to get some runs today to make it a memorable occasion."
Irrespective of the efforts that Essex made to ramp up the occasion this past week, should we not feel a bit robbed that such a box-office competitor has been limited to such a meagre handful of stage-seizing moments in England?
To draw a parallel with another teenage Asian prodigy who lived up to his youthful billing, Sachin Tendulkar played 43 matches in England compared to Tamim's 23, but of those, 33 came in the course of five separate bilateral tours between 1990 and 2011, during which the English public were able to track his evolution from woolly-haired wunderkind to grizzled behemoth. Tamim, by contrast, owes his record in England almost entirely to their hosting of three ICC tournaments in 2009, 2017 and 2019, and now this Ireland stop-over. Bilaterally speaking, Bangladesh have not been invited since Tamim's Wisden Cricketer of the Year-winning exploits, 13 long years ago.
Incidentally, at Bristol on the ODI leg of that tour, Bangladesh pulled off their first-ever win over England after 20 consecutive losses, since when the head-to-head has been level-pegging at P18 W9 L9. At the precise moment, therefore, that the team shed the callowness that had undermined its early relevance as an international team, England more or less gave up on Bangladesh as opponents - notwithstanding a pair of memorable losses at consecutive World Cups in 2011 and 2015, the second of which effectively kick-started the revolution that won the subsequent event.
And so it could be that a mighty campaigner has just slipped out of England's side door, accompanied by an enthusiastic knot of Bangladeshi journalists and serenaded by a packed and sun-baked houseful of fans, but virtually unheralded by the UK media - as if providing cricket's own answer to that philosophical question about oaks falling in deserted forests.
And if that is the case, then perhaps there's a fitting irony to the identity of his farewell opponents. Ireland versus Bangladesh is, after all, a match-up with an infamous place in cricket's modern history - had it not been for that innings at the 2007 World Cup, and Ireland's near-concurrent exploits in Jamaica, India and Pakistan would have met as anticipated in their Super Eights clash in Barbados, and the cards of their conquerors might never have been marked to the same extent.
Notwithstanding Ireland's subsequent attainment of Test status, the reluctance of the game's established nations to share the limelight has been palpable ever since. And the career of Tamim Iqbal, though formidable in its own right, has been denied a return to the stage on which he briefly shone like few batters before him.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket