Feature

How Tamim has shed his natural instincts to remain the batting mainstay

It was the slowest century by a Bangladesh batsman, but Tamim's knock was necessary, especially after a harrowing batting show in the Carribean in the Tests

Mohammad Isam
Mohammad Isam
23-Jul-2018
Tamim Iqbal laboured to a century, West Indies v Bangladesh, 1st ODI, Guyana, July 22, 2018

Tamim Iqbal laboured to a century  •  AFP

The nature versus nurture debate has kept scholars and thinkers busy for the last four centuries. While not as vast, the debate has provided the background music of the last 15 years for Bangladesh's batsmen, many of whom earned fame through their talent but couldn't quite nurture it.
For long, Tamim Iqbal has been one of the nature boys, but for better or worse - and whether he likes it or not - Tamim has slowly moved to the opposite camp. His match-winning 130 in the first ODI against West Indies should, at least for the next 10 months of building towards the World Cup, put this argument to rest. Nurture, which in this case is the effect of external factors after conception, has won.
On a slow pitch that had significant cracks, Tamim adjusted and readjusted several times before walking off with an asterisk next to his big score. Batting first, he is one of only three Bangladesh openers to stay unbeaten at the end of an innings, but neither Javed Omar nor Shahriar Nafees contributed to a win. Tamim's 130 off 160 balls provided the backbone that went missing in the two Tests.
Sure, it was the slowest century by a Bangladesh batsman, but he had to be there. If you felt he and Shakib Al Hasan should have pushed along after the 35th over, you are probably right, but when you appreciate how they laid the foundation one brick at a time, especially given how poorly they had played in the past two weeks, you may have to equally tolerate their slow-to-react gear change.
Tamim said that throughout their 207-run second-wicket stand, the goal was to last as long as possible in the middle. They were looking for a target around 260, which was bumped up to 279 by Mushfiqur Rahim's 11-ball 30.
"A match-winning innings is always special," Tamim said. "It wasn't a wicket to bat on. Myself and Shakib had to work really hard to get to a strong position. It was spinning as well as helping the fast bowlers at least till the 25th over. We just planned to dig in and without thinking about the score, stretch the innings as long as possible. We had a target in our mind and because of Mushfiqur's cameo, we got 20 runs more."
All three contributors - Tamim, Shakib, and Mushfiqur - interestingly discarded their natural instincts for much of their innings. Tamim and Shakib tried to have wickets in hand in the last 10 overs, and Mushfiqur, at times a slow starter, simply burst off the blocks like a slogger. All three were responding to the situation at hand.
As many of their fans and critics know, Bangladesh's batsmen have traditionally done the opposite. Since the early 1990s and well into 2018 too, there have been flashy batsmen who ultimately don't amount to much more than nostalgia. Mohammad Ashraful lasted 12 years in international cricket, simply because no one was willing to accept that his method - or madness - didn't belong to the highest stage. The fact that Ashraful (just the batsman) still has strong backers in the BCB despite holding the lowest average among specialist batsmen who have made 3,000-plus ODI runs, says everything about Bangladesh cricket's obsession about playing the natural game.
Often, a batsman's errors of judgment in the critical phases of a game are explained by keeping them away from the flaw in his talent. "But look at the bigger picture. He oozes talent," they say. It is definitely not the bigger picture.

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Initially, Tamim was the poster boy of the natural-game gang. But ever since Jamie Siddons converted him into a run fanatic, he has gradually and painfully shed his marauding style of 2007, and become Bangladesh's batting mainstay since 2015. While an opener's dismissal shouldn't matter too much, Tamim getting out early has always had an adverse effect on the Bangladesh dressing room. When he finally understood his importance in the team, and at the same time that he can leave his natural game from time to time and still become a solid opening batsman, Tamim flourished.
He is the team's leading run-scorer and century-maker in both Tests and ODIs, and is finally counted as among the top openers in world cricket. But the journey hasn't been easy. After his breakthrough innings in 2007 and a first big season in 2010, Tamim was slowly being figured out by opposition bowlers. The almost daily readjustment was a struggle, especially for an opener of a misfiring batting line-up. Matters became heated when in a press conference in October 2013, he was asked about his "different" batting when he ensured a drawn Test against New Zealand.
When he said, "Thank God Sehwag was not born in Bangladesh," he was complaining about those who questioned him making the adjustment. The question was just one of those inquiries about his change of approach; it wasn't really questioning his method, but it touched a nerve.
Ever since Tamim got out of the funk that lasted till the 2015 World Cup, he has played several innings in which he played solid, proper cricket for long periods, before bursting into his shots later in the innings. Sometimes, he has left it too late, like at The Oval or in Providence on Sunday, but he still fulfils the role of playing through the innings.
Seven out of his ten ODI hundreds have brought victory to Bangladesh. The previous occasion was in Dambulla where he played a similar innings, putting together partnerships where he let the other batsmen go after the bowling for long periods. In Test cricket too, his calmer approach has given him big runs in the last three years.
Mahmudullah is another example of a batsman who understands how he needs to open up if he has to thrive in the slog overs. The formula of getting out of their comfort zones when the situation demands has basically worked for all four of Bangladesh's most experienced batsmen. It is not a complicated formula but if you don't accept it quickly, the math will never solve itself.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84