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Mohammad Isam: Tamim Iqbal feeds off the doubts, again

espn cric info 2017-01-12 14:57:12
New Zealand v Bangladesh, 1st Test, Wellington, 1st day January 12, 2017

Tamim feeds off the doubts, again

The Bangladesh opener has often shown a tendency to get fired up and deliver with the bat when he or his team is being talked about. He did it again at Basin Reserve

Tamim Iqbal got Bangladesh off to a positive start in alien conditions © Getty Images

Tamim Iqbal regularly follows the news and what's going on on social media. That habit nearly derailed his career during the 2015 World Cup, when he felt that discussion about his poor form was being taken too far on social media. But, most times it seems to work for him; when there's a lot of talk going around on a particular match situation, conditions or opponent, it's hard to miss the fire in his belly when he comes out to bat. He has often delivered impressively soon after such talk surfaces.

A few cases in point: when Bangladesh were said to be not good enough for Lord's in 2010, Tamim responded with a breathtaking century. When the BCB president had questioned his fitness in 2012, he responded with four fifties in a row. Ten weeks ago, with everyone crumbling to spin around him, Tamim struck 104 on the first day of the Dhaka Test against England, one of his best efforts given the situation. He did it again in Wellington today.

Leading up to this Test, doubts about Bangladesh's ability to deal with a green Basin Reserve pitch swirled all around. The whispers grew in volume especially after someone posted a photo of what looked like a pitch made of AstroTurf. Bangladesh's batting inconsistencies during the preceding limited-overs games, and the many collapses in 2016, added to the sense of unease. How did Tamim respond? Fifty-six off 50 balls, his fourth 50-plus score at a 100-plus strike rate in Tests.

The pitch wasn't as green on the first morning but the unease would have only got deeper when Kane Williamson put Bangladesh in to bat. Tamim responded with boundaries. He squeezed some through the slips but also cut and drove whenever he was offered width. He struck five fours in the first five overs. He could not convert the quick start into something more, but, by the time he was finally dismissed in the 15th over, nerves would have been eased in the dressing room.

After the day's play, Tamim said a positive dressing-room atmosphere is natural after someone bats like he did. "It might have given them confidence, though I wouldn't say anyone got relaxed seeing me bat," he said. "I think even I would have gained some confidence seeing someone bat comfortably. Before the first ball of this game, there was a question mark. But after seeing how someone like Mominul [and I] played, it became clear that scoring and surviving were both possible."

Mahmadullah's brain-freeze gave New Zealand an opening © Getty Images

Tamim said all-out attack was not his plan; he just wanted to punish the bad balls. "I knew that I had to choose one way of batting in these conditions. I didn't want to miss out on bad balls. Good balls are a given here, so I had to use the boundary balls properly to keep the scoreboard going and give me more confidence. I utilized the scoring opportunities. This was my plan. I didn't go out there thinking of attacking every ball. I just didn't want to miss out on scoring balls. I connected most of the deliveries that I went after, which was good."

New Zealand fast bowler Neil Wagner said Tamim's aggression caught the hosts off guard, giving Bangladesh the early edge in the game. "I think today was Bangladesh's day. I think we didn't bowl well in partnerships for a long period today, and we got hurt. I think Tamim batted really well. They showed a lot of intent, coming out positively to put the bad ball away. It obviously put us on the back foot. We never really settled into a rhythm and into an area because of the way they batted."

Making life easier for the batsmen that follow, of course, is the opener's duty. Stories abound about one former Bangladesh opener who used to make everyone nervous by always maintaining that ball was moving around like a snake off the pitch, particularly when they were playing abroad. Tamim, by contrast, is known as a very upbeat figure in the dressing-room, and his application in picking the right balls to hit must have been noted by Mominul Haque, who was getting his first bat on the tour. He started off quietly before finding boundaries regularly and ending the truncated day on 64 not out. Mahmudullah left most deliveries outside off quite well until a brain-freeze had him chasing a very wide one and getting out after getting set.

When rain came down for the third time to end the day, Bangladesh were 154 for 3. Tamim admitted it would have been a better day for the visitors had Mahmudullah survived. "I think if you see how the others batted, it was different [to my innings] but they batted to their strengths. If [Mahmudullah] Riyad bhai was at the crease till the end, it would have been a superb day for us."

Depending on how day two pans out - Bangladesh could yet collapse - Tamim's 56 could well be soon forgotten, but, even so, it has to be appreciated for its immediate impact. He effectively scythed through the nonsense with his bat in the hope that the rest will follow suit.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84