“Learnings” is an important word for Haseeb Hameed and it is also valuable to anyone wishing to understand his development as a cricketer. Instead of a rather amorphous process, it suggests that small parcels of knowledge are continually being squirrelled away by a 20-year-old opener whose composure and calmness rather belie his needle-thin frame.
And 2017 may prove to have been a year of essential learnings for the batsman whose second Test innings brought his team-mates out onto the balcony at Rajkot to gaze in wonder at the precocious talent before them. Instead of playing further Tests, as most informed judges assumed he would, Hameed struggled in championship cricket and only scored his first red-ball fifty of the season on Monday afternoon.
The lunchtime abandonment of the final day of Lancashire’s match against Hampshire denied Hameed the opportunity to score the 23 more runs that would have brought him his first century since last August but nothing could diminish the pleasure he felt when he returned to the Ageas Bowl pavilion having batted for over five hours and faced 219 balls.
“It was nice to get that confidence and that feeling of having scored runs again,” he said. That’s the main thing when you haven’t tasted success for a while, sometimes you can get a little bit more uncomfortable. Scoring runs is a way of getting that confidence back. The longer I felt out in the middle the more confident and comfortable I felt.
“That second innings I gave myself the best chance to succeed and was determined to make it difficult for them to get me out, to go back to the basics,” he said. “Thankfully I could do that, and I was happy. The longer I spent out in the middle the better I felt. I was very happy with it.”
“Last year I had a good season and I guess when you are doing things well, there’s a nice rhythm and tempo to it, and you keep things simple. That’s what I tried to do this innings – I didn’t overthink things too much, I just focused on the things that I do well, the things that I did in the past – that one-ball focus, each ball as it comes. I’m glad I could execute the way I wanted.
“You are always optimistic that the work you put in will come to fruition. This year it has taken longer for this to happen. I wouldn’t say I had doubts about when I would score runs again, it is just I have had to make sure I have continued to learn from those phases, from the down times.”
But going “back to basics” suggests a previous abandonment. More specifically in Hameed’s case, any return to first principles might refer to the early season when he was being dismissed playing uncharacteristic shots.
“Maybe,” is as far as he is prepared to go in agreeing with such an assessment. “I guess it’s easy to say that I was doing things differently because I didn’t have the success I had had last year. Maybe it was the case where I did things slightly differently but there have been times where I’ve felt good but the luck’s not gone my way.”
Some might also argue that the first couple of months of this season were complicated for Hameed by his wish to play white-ball cricket for Lancashire. His form in the Royal London One-Day Cup was good and it is tempting to assume that he brought 50-over freedoms into the County Championship, a format where batting 76 overs for 77 unbeaten runs – as he did on Monday – is occasionally required.
“Maybe,” is again his response. “It would be quite easy for me to say that, because I only played four-day stuff last year and this year I’ve played 50-over and I haven’t done as well in the four-day cricket, so there may be a correlation between the two, but for me it’s important that I can continue to develop and learn.
“It is challenging to change between the different formats. Although my game doesn’t change too much for white-ball cricket there is a slightly different skill set, you do take more risks and play in a slightly different manner, so definitely that’s been one of the learnings I’ve taken from this season.”
Hameed’s determination to learn from everything he experiences extends to his struggles this season. He is never less equivocal than when recalling the weeks when the big scores wouldn’t come and one suspects that many senior batsmen, not least in the England camp, have told him this is part of the business of being a professional batsman.
“Definitely that’s been one of the learnings I’ve taken so far from this season,” he said. “You hear a lot of successful sportspeople say that these tough times make you a better cricketer and a better person, and I feel like I have learned a lot about myself not only as a player, but as a person as well. Hopefully I can look back on the last few months and say ‘you know what, they have made me a better player than I would have been had things gone my way from the word go.'”
And now that Hameed is getting back to his recognisable self, there will inevitably be talk of him being recalled to the Test squad with this winter’s Ashes tour in mind – and, with Keaton Jennings struggling and alternative openers thin on the ground, it’s not utterly out of the question that he might be back in the frame as soon as tomorrow, when England’s selectors name their squad for the day-night Test against West Indies at Edgbaston.
After all, on the first day of the Old Trafford Test, Hameed was having a net session with the England batting coach, Mark Ramprakash, someone with whom he has clearly built a firm professional relationship. He is still, you sense, a member of the larger England squad.
“I had a really good session with Ramps and I enjoy working with him,” he said. “He told me ‘the game is in good order, all you need is one score’, so it gave me a lot of confidence to hear that from the England batting coach. That net was really good and being around the group was quite nice.
“Ramps is very confident in me understanding and knowing my game. He doesn’t try to tinker with it too much. I’m sure that, if there is something he thinks will benefit me, then he will tell me. In that instance there was nothing he told me, if anything he was just reassuring me and giving me the confidence that my game is in a good place so I could approach this game with confidence.”
But when it comes to resuming a Test career that is still in its infancy, Hameed’s views are wrapped in predictable and protective caution. “I think I’m just focused on trying to perform well for Lancashire right now,” he said. “At the same time I’m hopeful and confident that if I can do that for Lancashire then further honours will come but there’s a process for getting there. Everyone wants to play for England and my ambition and aim is definitely to get back there as soon as possible. There’s a process and for me it’s about scoring runs for Lancashire now and hopefully that call will come.”