Many years ago the Warwickshire and England opener, John Jameson, was playing in a county second team match with a young batsman who was thinking he might make a career from the professional game. Jameson was famed for his ability to take the attack to new-ball bowlers but the apprentice was still astonished to see him clatter three straight boundaries in the first over of the match. As the field changed over Jameson sauntered down the wicket and murmured to his partner in the plummiest of tones: “Don’t follow me”.
There was no danger whatever that Haseeb Hameed would attempt to follow Alex Davies when Davies launched his assault on Hampshire’s bowlers on Monday afternoon. In its way, though, the brutal Sehwagesque batting of his opening partner was so far removed from Hameed’s own style that it freed the England batsman to concentrate on his own search for form. In the context of the match it was important that Lancashire’s first-wicket pair put on 127 runs but it did not matter in the slightest that Hameed contributed only 17 of them. What counted was that he was not out.
And you can be sure that his progress was noticed at Emirates Old Trafford. Even in the aftermath of a series victory over South Africa, Trevor Bayliss and Paul Farbrace will have seen that Hameed was finally building an innings and reaching a half-century for the first time in eight months and 21 first-class attempts. In the press box journalists will also have noted the innings and it will have helped sharpen their questions to Joe Root as he reflected on his success.
Is it unfair that so much expectation and attention is placed on these slight shoulders? It probably is; or rather, it would be had not Hameed declared his intention to play for England even when he was negotiating his first Lancashire contract. Being watched when he is playing well is something he craves; being watched when he finds it tough to reach double figures is part of the deal. As Michael Corleone says to Vincent Mancini in The Godfather Part III“It is the sacrifice you make for the life you have chosen.”
What was particularly noticeable about Hameed’s batting at the Ageas Bowl, especially when compared to his early-season innings, was what it did not contain. There were no fripperies or flourishes, none of the airy slashes with which he seemed so taken in April and May and which almost always ended in sombre walks back to the pavilion.
It is unclear why Hameed felt the need to introduce such strokes into one of the purest techniques in the game, one that had held him in good stead in his first three Tests in India last winter. Then came a broken finger and a more prolonged interruption to his Test career than he might have imagined. He is on record as saying he wants to play all three formats, so maybe he felt expanding his range of shots and scoring rate would accelerate this process; the experiment may also have been the consequence of coaching, either from Lancashire or England. Either way, it rarely ended well in red-ball cricket.
Instead of such comparative indiscipline there was a return to stock in trade shots yesterday: the forward defensive, the safe, soft-handed thick edge through the slips, the tuck to backward square leg, the immaculate leave. All these were played, and then played again to imaginary deliveries. It took Hameed 20 balls to get off the mark; that didn’t matter a damn.
Eventually there were attacking strokes: straight drives off the spinners, Mason Crane and Liam Dawson, a cover drive off Fidel Edwards and a lift over midwicket off Dawson. But the right to play them had to be earned by occupation of the crease, not brutally asserted in Davies’ manner. Only ten balls of the 219 Hameed received were hit for four, ten boundaries in 310 minutes’ batting, at the end of which the Great Wall of Bolton had 77 runs against his name.
“The selectors are entitled to ask that he produce a little more evidence that he has recovered the gloriously tranquil rhythm and tempo which are the hallmarks of his batting”
There was no opportunity for Hameed to reach his century on the third day of the game against Hampshire. Play was abandoned at just after 3.30, leaving him hoping for an opportunity to score another 23 runs on the final morning of the match. Should he achieve it, a case will be made for his recall for the Test series against the West Indies. It should be resisted, at least for the floodlit Test at Edgbaston. Even if Hameed makes 100 not out, his first-class aggregate for the season will be 314 and his average will be 28.5.
The selectors are entitled to ask that he produce a little more evidence that he has recovered the gloriously tranquil rhythm and tempo which are the hallmarks of his batting. There would still be time for him to play Test cricket this season and no reason why he should not be named in the party to tour Australia and New Zealand.
It is early August and sand martins are gathering at the Ageas Bowl. Before long they will migrate to Africa and will travel the routes they know well. Haseeb Hameed also wants to spend the English winter under austral skies. To achieve this objective he must prove that he has securely rediscovered the wonderfully compact technique which has already served him so well. If he can do that, some 15 years of Test cricket may lie before him.