Tamim, Bangladesh's batting <i> mastaan </i>
He may thrill and frustrate in equal measure, but the coach's backing and an understanding of his game that stems from a decade-long experience have helped him evolve
The ball pitched around off stump but Tamim Iqbal got into position quickly. By the time the ball had disappeared past the in-field, you forgot what the bowler was trying to do. The batsman, curiously under the radar for the last five months, looked like his switch was flicked on.
Out came the reverse sweep, the hits over mid-on, cover and midwicket. His six landed high into the second floor, thudding into the glass panes next to the press box. Bangladesh's 191-run target in the fourth innings suddenly looked small. It was like how, exactly ten years ago, India's 191, albeit in a 50-over game at the World Cup, felt when the rookie Tamim was lining up Zaheer Khan and Munaf Patel for sixes over long-on at the Queen's Park Oval in Port of Spain.
Tamim has transformed since, but the essence of his batting is about being positive and playing with freedom. His tactic is a bit of mastaani (bullying) on the opposition bowling, quite unlike his off-field persona - Tamim is mild-mannered and has a ready wit.
His 82, one he rates better than the century he made against England in Mirpur last year, on a fifth-day P Sara pitch, against a home spin attack that is good enough to take down any batting line-up in the world, was a Tamim special. Once he decided to attack the three spinners, he was sorted. There were no second thoughts. He said he knew that all-out attack wouldn't alone do the job so there had to mix aggression and caution very carefully.
For the first 40 balls, he was happy moving the ball around, and taking singles. He needed to judge how comfortable his partner, Sabbir Rahman, in this case was. On the day, he looked a part. That meant Tamim could enjoy the little bit of freedom he enjoys at the crease.
"It was a tricky total on the fifth day," Tamim told ESPNcricinfo after the four-wicket win. "We had it in mind that we can get an exceptional ball. When we lost two wickets, I told Sabbir to be positive and look for runs. It is the only way we can win this game. If we were too defensive they would have got us out. The plan was to pick the right ball and get a boundary. We did it very nicely, I think."
Bangladesh were in a chaos of sorts after the 259-run loss in Galle. Mahmudullah was dropped, Liton Das was ruled out of the game, and Mushfiqur Rahim, asked to play as a specialist batsman had to take the gloves. All of this warranted four changes to a shaky line-up. Tamim's focus didn't waver amidst all this. He spent time honing his skills at the nets every day, leading into the Test, under the eyes of coach Chandika Hathurusingha.
But they do have the odd disagreement, like when Sabbir and Tamim didn't take a single on offer after a misfield. "I was upset because there was a run before that, but he didn't take it. If he had taken the run, he would not be facing the next ball," he said. "I was upset with both of them for not running the single."
The run not being taken made an immediate impact as Tamim holed out to mid-on off the next ball. He admitted to have erred in judgment of the run, and jovially said he may have not charged the bowler and looked to hit out had he seen Hathurusingha's angry reaction for not taking the run.
"I wanted to take it but the non-striker didn't run," he laughed. "If I had seen his reaction, I wouldn't have got out. This is part of the game; I would have been happy to get a hundred but we won the game. Everything is fine now."
Hathurusingha is the sort of coach who has a lot of time for a player's individual development, and is quite possessive about them too. Although he was angry at his dismissal, he has pointed out how people would blame Tamim for getting out in the 80s even though his hitting got him to that score.
"He batted well in this situation. He took the game away after lunch," Hathurusingha said. "We needed to put the pressure back on to them, and score runs. We needed to be positive and back our strengths. Everyone clapped when he hit the six off [Lakshan] Sandakan and it hit that glass. But when he tried again and got out, everyone was scolding him. It is not right. I am all for players to play with freedom. They can make intelligent decision, which I need to back."
Hathurusingha knows Tamim isn't the one to give him too many sleepless nights, even though some grief may be had from time-to-time because of an an untimely dismissal. On his part, Tamim too fully understands the need of the hour in the Bangladesh team. It is a rapidly developing side that is going to face new challenges. With a batting mastaan like Tamim on his side, Hathurusingha knows that those challenges can be faced head-on.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84