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Ashes 2021/22

Haseeb Hameed and the fragility of hope

Ben Gardner by Ben Gardner
@Ben_Wisden 4 minute read

Is that it, then, for Haseeb Hameed, for now?

If so, it was fun while it lasted. All of it, from the first-baller at Lord’s to kick it off through the joyous 60-odds against India and the twin 20-odds at the Gabba to the six single-figure scores to close it out, if only because only a year ago, it seemed as far away as ever. The Bolton babe had shown glimpses of his old self in his first season at Notts, but England had a top three to count on and an Ashes to build towards. Then, before we knew it, it was upon us. Now it might already be over, at least for a time.

In seven Tests, Hameed has averaged 16.92, with twice as many ducks as fifties. If you look the part, that can still be enough to keep you going in this England team (see: Zak Crawley, who had a record-breakingly bad 2021 and yet somehow entered 2022 as England’s most secure opener). And Hameed is as elegant as they come, lunging forward in defence before springing back like a fencer. But the scores have dropped off completely, and now the technical grumbles have started getting louder. They can no longer be ignored.

Hameed’s batting, and in a way his story, is all about his hands. Soft and deft in that first summer and winter, too low and often broken as his first struggles presented themselves, and now groping out in front of him in his desperation to push his way out of the rut. It might take something a little more drastic than half an hour on one leg to solve.

Hameed’s batting has always evoked a feeling of hopeful fragility. A sweetly timed stroke here, a well-judged leave there, ever a hint that this could be the moment that a cricketer everyone wants to see crack it finally does, and all that prettiness only made more precious by the likelihood that it probably won’t be. Even on the fourth evening there were signs that those hands had softened again, that the old prance was just beginning to return to the footwork. The opening stand crept past 23, England’s highest of the series. Never mind that Hameed only had eight of them, we’ll take what we can get.

The next morning brought renewed frailties. Hameed adding one more run in 24 deliveries, before being nicked off by Scott Boland, caught on the crease again, having already been dropped by Alex Carey. It’s hard not to see England doing the same for the next game, for his own sake as much as anything. Burns’ last score, his second-innings 34 at Adelaide, is more than Hameed has made in any knock in the Ashes so far. The “major overhaul of his technique” that batting coach Graham Thorpe has suggested he needs might have to wait another week.

Did this all come too early? Should Hameed have been made to prove his resurgence over a year or two rather than just a two-month hot streak? Hameed’s body of work is light, and easy to make look lighter through statistical machinations. Two of his three hundreds before his recall came in one County Championship game, in a comfortable draw on a flat New Road track. In the 111 for the County Select XI against the Indian tourists that provided a further push, 80 of his runs came off Shardul Thakur, Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel, and only 21 off Jasprit Bumrah, Umesh Yadav, and Mohammad Siraj. He didn’t so much bang down the door as he did knock politely and await an answer.

The other argument is that England felt they had a player, and didn’t want county cricket to do to him again what it had already done once. If the thinking was to get him back in as soon as it was even halfway feasible and let him prove he was Test class in Tests, rather than stagnating at the mercy of an armada of medium-pace seamers, then there is some logic, even if what that logic says about the English first-class system is rather damning. Hameed was asked to sink or swim, rather than slowly be submerged in the swamp, and after treading water for a time, he now needs a liferaft.

This doesn’t have to be the end. Hameed has shown resilience before, and such is the paucity of options that it might not take much for England to turn to him again. His has already been a story with many chapters, and even in its sadder passages, there has been joy to find, because at least that meant it was still being written. Who knows? There might be more to come yet.

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