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Tamim Iqbal, still hungry, still world-class

There has been some criticism against the opener for his strike-rate but on Tuesday he put that all to bed

Mohammad Isam
Mohammad Isam
Tamim Iqbal is all smiles while fielding, Bangladesh v Zimbabwe, 2nd ODI, Sylhet, March 3, 2020

Tamim Iqbal is all smiles while fielding  •  BCB

By breaking his own 10-year old record, Tamim Iqbal has given another reminder that his appetite for big runs is far from over. In the last eight months, he has been sending some strong signals that he is gearing up for a new phase in his career, but not many paid attention.
During a self-imposed hiatus from the game last year, Iqbal topped up his fitness under Ben Coleman, a world famous trainer, in Bangkok. He was in the frontline of the players strike last October, too, and last month, he set the national record for the highest individual first-class score with his unbeaten 334.
But up until this superb 158 against Zimbabwe, his international return in January didn't include one of his trademark big knocks. And because it is Iqbal, a noted match-winner in the Bangladesh side for a long time, criticism wasn't too far away. The anxiety surrounding the team's all-time highest run-getter in ODIs came to a head when batting coach Neil McKenzie had to do a deep-dive in a press conference.
McKenzie explained that the questions about Iqbal's strike-rate were unfair, and that all he needed to do was hit two extra boundaries in the Powerplay to appease the naysayers. Iqbal struck 10 in the first 10 overs in this game, and 20 in total, apart from the three sixes.
It looked like a strong riposte to the questions asked about his intent and the lack of big runs since his international comeback. Among his first 10 fours, were two shots that looked very forceful - a pull over midwicket and a chip over wide mid-on - while the rest were picked up through cover or behind square on the leg side.
Then till he reached his hundred, Iqbal consolidated to make up for the loss of Mushfiqur Rahim, as he and Mahmudullah batted conservatively till the last 10 overs. Iqbal made his last 58 runs off 30 balls, with six fours and three sixes, as the fourth wicket partnership changed gear. He finished on a strike-rate of 116.17, having batted for 45.4 overs, which is no mean feat.
The recent criticism of Iqbal's batting is rooted in his cautious approach during the World Cup, where he made good starts but didn't capitalise. He later admitted that he 'made bad decisions' as the pressure to perform became too much.
Iqbal's return to top level saw him making a cautious fifty against Pakistan in a T20I in Lahore. It drew criticism as Bangladesh lost the game meekly but really, wouldn't it have been stranger if he had gone out in that game and started smashing everything knowing the rest of the batting line up was very inexperienced?
Over the last five years, Iqbal has worked out three separate methods for each format, and has been a mostly successful opener. Bear in mind, Bangladesh don't provide featherbeds at home for their batsmen, who also have to face tough conditions in away matches too.
His numbers since the 2015 World Cup suggest that he has come of age, although he would have liked to score some more runs in T20Is. Nevertheless, like he had provided stability to an often volatile opening stand for Bangladesh all those years ago when he started his career, he is now providing stability in a side slowly devoid of experience.
Iqbal's hunger for runs is what should mostly matter for the Bangladesh team, and if his method works out in the end, his experience at the international level should be reason enough to give him the leeway to get things right.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84