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ONE NIGHT during the 2015 World Cup, Tamim Iqbal knocked on Mashrafe Mortaza’s door and spent the rest of the night in the room crying. It was a difficult time for the Bangladeshi opener. He hadn’t been among the runs and earlier that evening, the cricket board chief had publicly pulled him up for a string of failures and lack of contribution with the bat at a team function. Iqbal was a broken man.
Mortaza heard his younger teammate out before reassuring him that he was still the best batsman in the country. He also told him that despite all the brickbats coming his way, there was no threat to his place in the team. By the time he left Mortaza’s room the next morning, Iqbal was a changed man. That night proved to be a turning point in his career, which has shown in the remarkable rise in his graph in the two years hence. Since that World Cup, Iqbal has averaged 57.33 in 31 ODIs, scoring 5 of his 9 centuries in that format, and has played an integral role in his country’s rise as a team to be reckoned with.
Though they had played together for nearly eight years, the two Bangladeshi mainstays hadn’t always been too close prior to that night. It had a lot to do with their backgrounds and lifestyle choices. Iqbal grew up in wealth and with a penchant for flashy cars and the good life.
Mortaza had a more humble upbringing. And while Iqbal has always preferred the urban life – and is learnt to be a big fan of London and its busy pace – Mortaza is always looking for an excuse to leave the city behind and spend his off-field time in the hills. The Bangladesh captain always kept social media at an arm’s length unlike Iqbal, who was active on all platforms, and like those close to him reveal, highly influenced by it.
His growing friendship with Mortaza didn’t just trigger a drastic transformation in his approach on the field, but Iqbal also started changing his ways off it. He went off social media and stopped reading and worrying about what was written or said about him. He began exploring life beyond the malls and restaurants around the city, even joining Mortaza on his treks to the hills on occasions. And he also started setting himself small, yet significant, targets with his cricket.
Prior to the Champions Trophy, Iqbal had never scored a century in a world event. He started his campaign here with a 128 against England at the Oval. He then fell five runs short of an encore in the next game against Australia at the same venue. And on Thursday, he’ll look to set the record straight with an opposition against whom he’s generally flattered to deceive, as an average of 31.50 testifies.
The change in attitude has shown in his batting too. For a long time, Iqbal epitomised the problems with Bangladesh cricket. There was no dearth of talent or skill in their ranks, but it only intermittently came to the fore. From the time he kept charging at Zaheer Khan during Bangladesh’s famous win over India at the 2007 World Cup, there were few who doubted his raw ability and audacious streak. He remained someone who chose flamboyance over consistency, playing attractive cameos that caught the eye but hardly for long enough.
The Mortaza effect got him to start spending more time at the crease and take it easier against the new ball. He went from being a kamikaze aggressor to a more polished accumulator of runs before exhibiting his vast repertoire of shots once he’d laid the foundation for his team, like against England and Australia. Since the coming of age, Iqbal has averaged 68 when Bangladesh have won in both Tests and ODIs and a staggering 58 in T20 International wins for his country. And he’s climbed to No.6 in the batsmen’s rankings for ODI cricket, the highest ever for a Bangladeshi.
And he also makes sure to spend most nights on tours in Mortaza’s room, him on the bed and his teammate turned confidant on the floor, which is how he likes it. They’re often joined by Shakib al Hasan for lengthy addas late into the night. Like on Wednesday, on the eve of the biggest match of their careers.