The entire nation has been left stunned by the announcement of Tamim Iqbal's retirement from international cricket with immediate effect. Tamim's form has been indifferent since his return to the ODI side earlier in the year, but he was fully expected to lead Bangladesh at the format's World Cup, to be held in India later this year. Instead, the 34-year-old southpaw, Bangladesh's most accomplished batsman, surprised everyone, and broke countless hearts as well, during an emotional appearance in front of the press on Thursday at the team hotel in Chattogram, where Bangladesh are playing a 3-match ODI series against Afghanistan.
The first real swashbuckler in our batting lineup, the sight of an 18-year-old Tamim dancing down the wicket to hit India's opening bowler back over his head for six in that memorable first game of the 2007 World Cup, is something we'll never forget. His talent and ability was clear to everyone from the start. In those early years he would often frustrate almost as much as he entertained, giving his wicket away cheaply. But in time he would mature, and contrary to earlier incarnations, establish himself as Mr Consistent at the top of the order.
That allowed him to take ownership of all the important batting records in Bangladesh cricket, that you felt were always rightfully his - even before they actually went under his name. I mean, who else but Tamim could be Bangladesh's leading run-scorer in international cricket, across all formats? Who else but Tamim, would have scored the highest number of centuries for the country? It's like an image in perfect harmony with its surroundings. Befitting, for both the man and the nation.
At the presser, he broke down more than once as he evoked his late father, saying he always played for him, that all he wanted was to make him proud, although he never knew if he could do it. If this is the end, I'd suggest Mr Iqbal, Sr in heaven has got everything he could ask for from his son, who went on to become one of Bangladesh's favourite sons. Surely he wouldn't start asking for the bowling records too, would he?
For Tamim was one, who was always about batting. Classy, top-order, specialist batting. This is rarer than you probably think in Bangladesh: notice how everyone, quite literally everyone (Ok probably almost) eventually starts trundling up to the stumps and turning their arm over? Usually some innocuous finger spin. Before you know it, your next great batting prodigy has turned into yet another run-of-the-mill "all-rounder". Soon you can't even tell one from the other. The culture of developing specialists, cricket's executioners, has evaded us. Tamim was one who totally defied that tendency, and built his success doing just that.
Yet as someone steeped in the game's history (remember how he almost insisted on writing his own name onto the Honours Board at Lord's, after smashing the fastest-ever Test hundred by a Bangladeshi in his maiden appearance at the home of cricket?), he will have hoped to nudge that Test average just a couple of runs higher, to get it past 40. A couple more centuries in his 70 Tests (he has 10, the same as Mushfiqur's tally from 86 matches) would have gone hand-in-hand with that. But these are mere niggles, against the joy he brought to so many, on so many occasions.
Now it's over, and I guess the way it happened, the sudden-ness of it, will invite speculation - all ripe for smearing, whichever way the heart desires. Hearts made of gold, but also dark hearts, engaged in dark arts. Not that any of it will matter much. By no means do I think he'll stray too far from the game. A future in the commentary box has been long predicted, and would have been buoyed further by the series of lockdown interviews he did with his cricketing mates, which were well received. The one with Mashrafe Bin Mortaza, is one always worth revisiting, that I'd highly recommend, to bask in their easy camaraderie and friendship. Tamim has just been named the ODI captain, and Mash imparts some advice accordingly. In the end though, Tamim as captain could never really stamp his authority on the job. It was all too fragmented. Three different captains in the three formats, the havoc on the touring schedule wrought by Covid-19, his own indifference and injuries, all combined to prevent him from ever growing into the role. It never felt like his team, and his batting too suffered, appearing listless and reactive.
Knowing the kind of expectations many in Bangladesh are harbouring for this year's World Cup - ODIs being our strongest format - I do think under Tamim we were headed for disappointment. His head wasn't in the right place for it, and being relieved of that weight of captaincy could perhaps have triggered a return to form with the bat at least. That's what many people were expecting when he called that press meet, right after Bangladesh had lost the first ODI of the series to Afghanistan. Now we'll never know.
What we learned instead has left the nation on the verge of bedlam. BCB president Nazmul Hassan emerged from a closed-door meeting of the board late last night to declare Tamim was still designated as captain for the upcoming Asia Cup, as well as the World Cup that follows soon afterwards. Many blame Papon and coach Chandika Hathurusinghe for coming down harshly on the skipper over the issue of his fitness. Others smell something political to it all, and not just the petty type confined within teams.
It's hard to imagine a plot to push out Tamim though - one of the country's most revered and beloved cricketers. I don't buy the narrative of him being sacrificed at the altar of politics of any kind, as some have neatly concluded. Papon's tendency to clean the team's dirty laundry in public is always a problem, but by now everyone knows that's just how he operates. And both he and the coach were probably right on the overall point they were making. Tamim did need to get his act together, do something to get out of the rut, with the important fixtures coming up. What he did in response, was clearly not foreseen by anyone, and ultimately his decision I believe. Perhaps an acknowledgement, that he wasn't really up for it, the kind of lift being asked of him. To that extent, I trust that his decision was in the best interests of the team.
Maybe once the World Cup passes, ahead of Bangladesh's next Test series, someone could get in his ear and make him reconsider - partly at least. ODIs, T20Is, he is done clearly. But at 34, two more years of Test cricket could seal his legacy. He's got that easily in him. He is still our best batsman.
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