Tamim Iqbal: The Miracle of Chittagong

Jon GemmellCorrespondent IJune 9, 2010

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JUNE 05:  Tamim Iqbal of Bangladesh celebrates his 100 on day two of the 2nd npower Test between England and Bangladesh at Old Trafford on June 5, 2010 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Julian Herbert/Getty Images)
Julian Herbert/Getty Images

Chittagong is home to Bangladesh's main seaport, making it the country's major commercial centre and second largest city.

It is surrounded by hills, which provide an opportune setting to stage a revolt. A guerilla outfit, the Republican Army, staged an uprising against the British Raj in 1930 and sought to capture the city's two main armouries.

During the Bangladesh Liberation War, the city witnessed some of the heaviest fighting and was the venue for the first public announcement declaring independence.

Following independence, the city underwent a major rebuilding programme.

The wider reconstruction process involved the promotion of sports as a means of uniting the people behind a political project and forging a sense of national unity.

Within just 25 years, one of the poorest regions of the subcontinent had gone from being part of India, to a remote member of Pakistan, to an independent Bangladesh. Seeing the role that cricket played in post-colonial India and Pakistan, it was expected that it would surpass football as the new country's national sport.

Bangladesh are the most recent side to be granted Test match status and are a young team not just in the years they have been playing Test cricket—10—but also in their current squad, which includes 12 players who are aged 23 or less. England by contrast have just two.

It's fair to say that progress has been sluggish in the five-day format, but to continue to have questions raised about their international status is insensitive, if not a little boorish, especially when you consider that it took India 20 years to win a Test match and New Zealand 26.

How would we know if a side were good enough if they were not allowed to play against the best teams?

The concern today would be that a side denied international status would focus instead on the shorter format of the sport, which could only undermine Test cricket in the long term.

Chittagong is also the birthplace of the explosive opening batter Tamim Iqbal. The inventive cricketer scored two hundreds in the recent series against England, to match scores of 86, 85, and 52 in the home series against England last March.

To remove Bangladesh's Test match status would deprive the cricket-loving public of a player who has the aptitude and the self-belief to rewrite the chapter in the coaching manual that deals with the attributes of the opening batter.

Aged only 21, he already has some impressive statistics. He scored 84 in his debut Test, against New Zealand in Dunedin in January 2008, and his maiden Test century against the West Indies last year.

On March 13, 2010, while batting against England, he became the second youngest player in Test history, behind Sachin Tendulkar, to reach 1,000 runs. The inevitable comparisons will be made with the Indian genius, but in fact, Iqbal has more in common with the expressive Virender Sehwag or Chris Gayle.

His style seems more suited to one-day cricket, employing a number of shots that leave you both bewildered and foreseeing his downfall.

There is also a sense of injustice that provides steel to Iqbal's temperament. He credited remarks from Geoffrey Boycott that Bangladesh were not worthy of Test status for the brutal hundred that he scored in the second innings at Lord's.

Supporters will need to remain cautious. Many will recall Mohammad Ashraful's destruction of Australian bowling in a one-day international at Cardiff in 2005, and the expectations that he would propel Bangladesh to cricket's high table.

However, the Tigers now have a player who strikes trepidation into his opponents.

This was evident in the field England set to him at the start of his first innings at Old Trafford. Two slips and a gully speaks more of containment than attack, and is more likely in the 25th over than the first.

Michael Vaughan believes that Iqbal would get into any current Test side, while Vic Marks described him as, "arguably the most charismatic batsman on the planet."

There is little room for sentiment in international sport, but to argue that Bangladesh don't belong is callous.

Their propensity to collapse is a worry, but two of those occasions against England were assisted by alien conditions which can be overcome by playing more, not less.

They have certainly provided more entertainment and given England better competition than the West Indies, who filled a similar role last year.

It will be a fortunate county that hires the prolific Iqbal.

To his and Bangladesh's detractors, consider that half of its population live on less than $1.25 a day and that half of its children aged under five are underweight, and then marvel that there is a side at all.