The teenager who thrived in an England shirt lost his way at Lancashire. But things are starting to look up once more for Haseeb Hameed, writes Taha Hashim.
Sure, the grass ain’t always greener, but Haseeb Hameed was stuck in the mud at Lancashire. He’d once been at the centre of English cricket, gangly yet gorgeously fluent, a baby-faced teenager but tough as nails, a half-century against India with a broken finger spelling out a simple message: this kid from Bolton’s special.
And then, suddenly, the new Test star couldn’t buy a county run. In 2017 Hameed averaged 28.50 in the County Championship; in 2018, he had a tailender’s record, averaging 9.70 from 17 innings. “He’s hanging on by his fingertips at Lancashire,” the club’s director of cricket Paul Allott told Wisden Cricket Monthly as Hameed entered the final year of his contract in 2019. An early-season century against Middlesex proved to be an anomaly, and as the miracle of Headingley began to take shape in late August, the news broke: the wunderkind was to be released by his home county.
Notts offered a way back in, with Hameed coming under the wing of Peter Moores, one of county cricket’s great tutors and Lancashire’s head coach when the opener was making his way in their academy. The reunion with the struggling prodigy has appeared to light a spark. Hameed hit three half-centuries in five Bob Willis Trophy matches back in the summer, at an average of 38.85 with a best of 87. Hardly earth-shattering returns but quietly impressive – perhaps what was needed for a 23-year-old who has carried heavy expectations since arriving on the scene in 2015.
“I think he’s done really, really well,” Moores says. “When Has came to us, he was batting to survive and not get out a little too much, if I’m being honest. I think he’s turned that around and he now bats to score runs, which is a completely different mindset. He looks to put pressure on bowlers and that’s how he’s played for us.”
Numerous theories have been put forward for Hameed’s mysterious slump but a lack of effort has never been one of them. Allott previously talked of Hameed practising “harder than anybody else”, while Moores confirms that “when he first came to us, he was probably trying a bit too hard”. Over time, however, his demeanour has become more relaxed. “He looks like he’s really embracing the fun you can have with a game of cricket,” says Moores, who is effusive when recounting Hameed’s strengths. “He’s got that ability to switch on and off, to get into a place where he can repeat his concentration a lot. You overpitch, he’s got this beautiful cover drive. You get him on the backfoot, and he’ll punch you. Go too straight, and he’ll clip you away. His natural shots fit with scoring runs at the top of the order.” Throw in his aptitude against spin – made clear in his brief Test stint – and it’s easy to see why Hameed had Kohli singing his praises after that courageous 59* in Mohali, following hot on the heels of his 82 on debut in Rajkot.
Moores knows that player, the one who looked so at home alongside Alastair Cook, is still in there. The early signs at Notts have been positive but the consistency must return, while Moores believes the limited-overs formats aren’t off limits either for Hameed, who is yet to play a senior T20 game. “He’s got a lot of power in there and a lot of ability to manoeuvre the ball, which over time we’d like to see him explore.” But it was the red ball that made him, took him down, and appears to be lifting him once more.
In fact, after just five matches for his new club, it lifts him towards another year on his contract. On a gloomy December morning the news drops of an extension until the end of 2022. Hours later, the man himself shows up on a Zoom call in front of a group of journalists; with a wispy beard and curls poking out of his hat, this doesn’t look anything like the boy we once knew.
The see-saw nature of questioning reflects the story. Early on he’s asked to pin down the reasons for his downturn at Lancashire: “I think it was a number of different reasons,” he says before failing to outline a clear diagnosis, adding how “it was best for both parties to separate at that stage”. Moments later, he’s questioned on his international ambitions: “That ambition will always be there,” he mentions in his reply before a question comes in surrounding the presence of Rory Burns and Dom Sibley in England’s ranks, a couple of other old-school red-ball aficionados happy to bat for days. “My focus isn’t so much about what I do that they do or what I do that they don’t. It’s just me performing to my best and having the confidence that if I’m able to do that for a period of time, I’m good enough to get into that England set-up again.”
Then there’s a return to the darker days. Did he ever consider giving up the game? “No, I didn’t give that too much thought. Of course, when you’re going through a tough phase there are lots of different voices in your head.
“There weren’t any real thoughts of me walking away from the game because I still look at myself as quite a young man within the game. I’ve had a lot of different experiences within that short span of my career, but I look at it as something that can propel me to achieve greater things in the game, hopefully. I see it now as a window to another 10-12 years where I can use those experiences to better myself.”
Later, Hameed’s defiance becomes clear. “One thing I’ve prided myself on from a young age is that my best years were after my worst years. I remember as a 15-year-old winning the Player of the Year trophy at Lancs, winning three awards at the Bunbury Festival and getting selected for the England Development Programme. That came after a year, at the age of 14, where I probably had the worst year of my junior career. I then look at not getting selected for the Under-19 World Cup and then, [less than] 12 months on, I was playing in Bangladesh for the senior team. That always stuck with me and tells me I’ve got something deep down that won’t let me stop.”
The confidence is there and old wounds are healing. In a year where calamity seems to strike at every corner, stories of hope grow in importance, offer up a wider smile and tug at the heartstrings just that little bit more. Haseeb Hameed is still a long way off from the promise of Mohali, but the joy has returned. For now, that’ll do.
A version of this article first appeared in issue 37 of Wisden Cricket Monthly