Top cricketers finishing their careers will tell you that it was a dismissal, or a poor delivery, or a dropped catch, that told them it was over. For Tamim Iqbal, though, it was no such thing. He led Bangladesh on Wednesday and retired on Thursday, a tearful press conference in a dingy conference room the final act of a 16-year international career.
The harsh reality is that Tamim, arguably the best batter in Bangladesh's history, doesn't get to exit on a high. No lap of honour with team-mates carrying him on their shoulders. No souvenir stumps from a farwewell game. No adoring crowds to see him off. But such were the circumstances Tamim faced in the last 24 hours that he had to bring forward his retirement plans, hastily arrange a press conference, and make the heartbreaking announcement.
Bangladesh are now without an ODI captain. The BCB will name a replacement in its own sweet time, whether just for this series or until the World Cup. The team Tamim led for the last two-and-a-half years, or played with for 16 years, will have to move on quickly. They have to come from behind in the ODI series against Afghanistan, which resumes on Saturday. Tamim has to move on too, adjusting to life away from cricket, and to the loss of a way of life that he loved to bits. He loved to bat. He loved being in cricket grounds, and interacting with people in cricket.
The press conference from hell
The police whistles from the hotel's gate signalled that Tamim had arrived for his press conference. At 1:30pm, Tamim entered the third-floor hall, in a black t-shirt and baseball cap. He sat at the head table, as reporters, photographers, camerapersons and social media videographer scrambled for a spot.
Multiple times, the media had to be asked to calm down. It was an uneasy clamour. If you looked at the faces in this crowd, you saw none of the usual hunger for big news. Tamim's arrival signaled that there was no escape from this big announcement.
When he looked around for everyone to calm down, his eyes appeared bloodshot. It became clear he was about to say that he was retiring from international cricket. It took him only 13 minutes to announce his retirement.
Tamim took several pauses to gather his breath as he spoke through tears, especially when he mentioned his father's dream to see him succeed as a cricketer. He hung his head at one point, when he tried to recall his first coach from childhood. Tamim's announcement came just 2km from the ancestral home where he grew up, and even closer to the cricket fields where he learned the game.
This was a location close to where Tamim grew up and learned the game, but this was not how anyone would have envisaged his retirement. This was not the Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium, where he had led Bangladesh on the previous day. It wasn't the Shere Bangla National Stadium in Dhaka, where he has made big, sparkling runs against India, Pakistan and England.
There were dark clouds over his head in the 24 hours leading up to the announcement on Thursday. He may not have arrived at the decision in a spontaneous manner, but a possible cause has been identified.
On the morning of the first ODI on Wednesday, the Bengali daily Protidiner Bangladesh published an interview with BCB president Nazmul Hassan, who accused Tamim of being unprofessional, a response to the captain's statement that he wanted to play the first ODI against Afghanistan despite not being fully fit. Hassan also said head coach Chandika Hathurusinghe was irate with Tamim's statement.
"The captain is saying before the first match of the series that he is not fit but he will play," Hassan told the newspaper. "He will understand his fitness by playing the match. It is not a professional attitude. I don't know why Tamim would say such a thing. I spoke to the coach who is not used to such behaviour. He is upset. Tamim has to tell us clearly what he wants to do. I will go to Chattogram to watch the match.
"I lost my temper at Tamim's statement. Hathu shouted at me for half an hour on the phone. Did he think it is a street cricket match? He is saying he will check his fitness by playing the match. Either you are fit, or you're not fit. The doctors can't find anything. The coach told me what he said [in the media]. Tamim has to decide what he wants to do. He is always unsure if he wants to play or not. He did it in the previous match too."
This kind of public statement from a board chief would be hurtful to any international cricketer. They are not the words a top-level cricketer wants to consume a few hours before a high-profile contest. This is, however, an era in Bangladesh cricket where the board president makes every drawing-room opinion public, whether it relates to the senior team's long-term plans or the relationship between two big stars. Everything and everyone is game.
Tamim knows this all too well. He is one of the senior-most figures in Bangladesh cricket. He was ODI captain until Wednesday. Tamim didn't say Hassan's statement was the final nail in the coffin, but it's an educated guess that it didn't go down well with Tamim. Anyone with a bit of self-respect would have found it hard to swallow so much public vitriol for something as routine as an injury concern.
The recent spate of injuries
Tamim missed three of Bangladesh's ODIs and as many Tests over the last 12 months. Litton Das led Bangladesh to a 2-1 win against India in an ODI series last year. Tamim also missed the two-match Test series against the same opponents, before he was ruled out of the one-off Test against Afghanistan last month.
Tamim made just one half-century in his last 11 ODIs, one of the few lean runs in his career. But it hadn't really worried the team, especially since he had done so well on the captaincy front, leading Bangladesh into the World Cup with a third-place finish in the ODI Super League. He has the best win-loss ratio of any Bangladesh ODI captain to lead them at least five times, and since he took over the job full-time in March 2020, Bangladesh achieved a better win-loss ratio in ODIs than India, England or New Zealand. He had built a strong, stable side since taking over at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Ahead of the World Cup, all he needed was a few runs under his belt to regain his batting confidence.
Tamim, however, couldn't stem the tide of criticism about his batting or the innuendo about his fitness. A hard trier will always feel tormented when his efforts are being questioned.
The final ambition
Tamim keeps a keen eye on statistics, but he had reached a stage in his career where he had stopped looking at how many runs he had made across the three formats. He last played T20Is three years ago. He engaged in a friendly battle with Mushfiqur Rahim over who was the No. 1 run-getter for Bangladesh in Tests and ODIs. They have changed places a few times. Both relished the competition.
Otherwise, the final agenda for Tamim at the highest level was a decent crack at the World Cup. He felt Bangladesh's strong showing in the ODI Super League would give them inner confidence and a strong outlook ahead of the World Cup.
As he sobbed through his statement on Thursday afternoon, Bangladesh's World Cup planning must have been rattled to a high degree. This team has rarely had a steady captain. When Mashrafe Mortaza left the scene in 2020, a volatile period was expected. But while trouble was brewing on the Test and T20I fronts, Tamim kept the ODI side ticking over smoothly. Under him, Bangladesh radiated a sense of calm in the format, but those around him weren't satisfied with calmness alone.