It was impossible not to be impressed by Haseeb Hameed in India in 2016/17. The diminutive Lancashire opener was just another cricketer on the merry-go-round that is Alastair Cook’s opening partners, but he had something about him. He just looked like he belonged. In a sport in which perception is everything, that matters.
When he broke his hand in Chandigarh he came out to bat at number eight in England’s second innings, as the tourists tried forlornly to set their hosts a sizeable total to chase. Whilst the team failed, Hameed succeeded, batting gamely on, broken hand and all, to an unbeaten score of 59.
“He’s showed great character. He put his hand up when his team wanted him to do it and the way he played showed great maturity. You can sense it as a captain: this guy is intelligent, this guy knows the game. He’s a great prospect for England. He’s definitely going to be a future star in all forms if he keeps persisting with his skill. I’m really impressed and that’s why I patted him on the back. It was an innings full of character and something that you need to applaud.”
That was India captain Virat Kohli leading the praise for Hammed. Although Hameed departed the series at that juncture, he appeared to be set for a glistening future, set to return to the top of England’s order at the first opportunity. There was unanimous agreement to this end; his future success was an inevitability.
Of course, that could still happen. Sadly, though, things have gone awry for Hameed since that broken hand. He’s broken it again since and his form for Lancashire has been dire.
His domestic form in 2016 won him the call-up to England’s squad for the tour of India. He amassed 1198 runs, with four centuries and seven fifties at an average of 49.91. Once it was realised that Ben Duckett simply couldn’t play spin, Hameed was handed his Test cap in Rajkot and played the first three Tests of the series, scoring 219 runs, with two fifties at an average of 43.80. He appeared almost from nowhere and seemed the silver bullet to England’s opening woes. The future suddenly looked rosy.
2017 simply didn’t go according to plan. In 17 games for Lancashire, he scored 513 runs, with three fifties at an average of 28.50. As Keaton Jennings struggled to hold down his England place, debate raged as to whether Hameed should be called up again. England resisted the calls, in the face of Hameed’s sorry form, and Jennings’s place eventually went to Mark Stoneman.
Hammed did feature for the England Lions this winter, in a three-game series against West Indies A. He scored 167 runs with no centuries or fifties and averaged 27.83. That he was the best of the bunch speaks volumes for England’s current batting predicament.
So bad is the situation that there are still calls for Hameed to be drafted back into the England team right now. Those three Tests in India still represent the best of a sorry bunch since Andrew Strauss retired – no one has ever replaced him.
Had Hameed got off to a good start in 2018, then the calls for an England re-call would only have grown louder. He’s one century away from demanding a recall, such is the paucity of options. Alas, 2018 has picked up where 2017 left off for Hameed. In two games so far, he has 31 runs at an average of 7.75.
Of course, opening the batting in April in the north of England is a thankless task, with conditions tipped in the favour of the bowlers. With half the First Class domestic season played by the end of May, however, chances for Hameed to impress may be few and far between.
Perception lingers. There are many who believe Hameed should be thrown back into the England side and given two years to show us what he’s got.
With this, the England selectors are in an impossible situation. Hameed hasn’t scored a century since 2016 and picking a player so obviously out of form could easily blow up if he continues his low scoring at Test level. Conversely, those three Tests in India showed a tantalising glimpse of what could be.
There is no rush, though. Hameed is still only 21. He’s still learning his game and if he comes through this period of prolonged struggle, he will be a stronger player for it. He doesn’t need to be thrown back into Test cricket just yet. He needs runs for Lancashire and he needs the right opportunity in which to return to the England fold.
Hopefully that day will come sooner rather than later, for Hameed and for England.
By Miles Reucroft