Tamim Iqbal had been bracing for today. A few days ago, he had stressed that if Bangladesh wanted to be counted among the elite teams, they needed to play like one. That meant being consistent, proactive and prepared to grasp moments in the match.
As Bangladesh’s most experienced batsman, he also had to back his words with his bat. Walking to the crease on Thursday morning, he was aware that England are masters at chasing down large totals, so Bangladesh would need a score that was more than challenging. Could they do it?
Only a week ago, in their first warm-up match, Bangladesh scored 341 against Pakistan. At the Oval on Tuesday, however, they slipped to 84 all out and were walloped by India.
That 240-run defeat in the warm-up may have been on Tamim and Soumya Sarkar’s minds. By the time Tamim scored his first four, a flick off a Mark Wood bouncer, he had played 21 deliveries and the match was six overs old. At the 10-over mark, Bangladesh stood at 36 for 0.
Tamim seem unperturbed by the sedate start. He would go on to punch a straight four against Wood. When Jake Ball tried to attack his hips, another flick, this time much firmer, beat the long-leg fielder. England’s plan was simple: fire the short ones at Tamim. Wood nearly had him when a bouncer climbed swiftly towards Tamim’s head. Tamim responded awkwardly but the top edge ballooned and nearly fell onto his stumps.
As the sun shone brightly and the pitch eased, Tamim also relaxed. England’s one-dimensional bowling attack, which did not surprise him with variations, also helped him. The lengths, the pace of the delivery were to Tamim’s liking and he picked gaps as easily as the London cabbie who picks short cuts to escape congested routes. Tamim did not just keep his eyes on the ball, he also kept his hands soft to react to the short deliveries, which were aplenty.
There were moments when Tamim’s mind wandered. Twenty short of a century, Tamim went chasing a straight delivery outside the off stump from Ben Stokes. He was lucky not to drag the ball back on to the stumps or edge to Jos Buttler. Next ball was slower, at a 135kph, and this time, Tamim stood his ground and steered an easy four. Irritated, Stokes said few sharp words and Tamim shot back. The bowler’s barbs continued and Tamim kept pointing Stokes to his mark. At the end of the over, Stokes tapped Tamim’s shoulder annoying the batsman further.
Tamim managed to hold his nerve and did not get swayed by emotions. He went on to raise his bat for his fifth century, across formats, against England. He eventually walked out to a standing ovation, having fallen 17 short of matching Nathan Astle’s 145, the highest individual score in the Champions Trophy.
Yet it was England, helped by Joe Root’s century, who raised their hands to celebrate an easy victory. Tamim is bound to feel disappointed. But if he does analyse his innings, he would be the first to admit he could have approached things a little differently, especially towards the end. Although Bangladesh did not lose too many wickets, their run rate remained modest throughout, climbing over six runs an over only in the last two overs.
While Tamim and Mushfiqur Rahman did not allow the bowlers to dominate in their 166-run third-wicket stand, they failed to push the accelerator frequently. This was something Root did effectively, first in the company of Alex Hales and then with Eoin Morgan.
The most revealing segment of Tamim’s innings came on either side of his century. He took 25 balls to move between 84 and 100 and then scored 28 runs off the next 18 deliveries. At the other end, Mushfiqur, although middling the ball, also failed to blunt the bowling, and Bangladesh eventually managed only 46 in the last six overs, despite wickets in hand.
Bangladesh have played a lot of cricket in home conditions, where they are used to defending totals around the 300-run mark but in helpful batting conditions, like at The Oval, a total in the range of 350 would have been safer. To overpower an opponent as ruthless as England, Bangladesh need to learn to be more aggressive.
Tamim should look at this match as a marker for the future. Today he showed the composure and the determination to be the anchor and showed the patience to withstand pressure. Going forward he could think of taking a few more risks while keeping the bigger picture in mind. This is not to say he did not bat responsibly today. In fact, at times he did scare England. But can he and Bangladesh be more intimidating going forward?