Lancashire opener batting for his career
Very few players can boast a double-century in their first innings of a summer, and even fewer who have then walked out for their opening first class game a week later batting for their future.
But if Lancashire opener Haseeb Hameed was feeling the pressure, he did not show it with a well-crafted 117 at the top of the order to set the Red Rose on the way to County Championship victory at Middlesex.
It was the perfect start to a ‘do or die’ season for the Bolton-born batsman, less than three years after marking his England debut with a half-century in India aged just 19.
Indeed, in a different universe, Hameed walking out to bat alongside Keaton Jennings at Lord’s this summer would have been in significantly altered circumstances – with three lions on their chest, not red roses.
Instead, just two-and-a-half years on from his England debut as a teenager in India, Hameed is batting not just to revive his international hopes but for his Lancashire future too.
The 22-year-old’s contract with the Red Rose county expires at the end of the summer, and director of cricket Paul Allott had thrown down the gauntlet ahead of the season.
‘Hanging on by his fingertips’
“He’s got six months left on his contract,” Allott told Wisden, “and he’s not scored a run for two years. Not only is he a million miles away from England, he’s hanging on by his fingertips at Lancashire.”
Not everybody was enamoured by Allott’s comments – former Lancashire spinner Gary Keedy was among the most critical.
I’ve just read Mr Allotts comments on Haseeb in the wisden article online. Man management at its finest…….not!
— Gary Keedy (@keeds23) March 30, 2019
But the fact is, Hameed had looked a shadow of his former self in the two seasons since his international debut. The stats do not lie.
In 2017, Hameed averaged 28.50 and it got even worse last season – despite multiple opportunities, he finished the year with 165 County Championship runs and an average of 9.70. In 17 innings, he never scored higher than 31.
Allott said at the end of a season which saw Lancashire relegated, they had given Hameed ‘more opportunity than he deserved’.
So, what has happened in the mean time? Hameed’s seemingly inexorable rise to the top was halted by the finger injury he suffered in the first innings of what is, to date, his most recent test.
Though he batted with a broken finger in the second innings, scoring his second test half-century (having hit his highest test score of 83 on debut), he returned home afterwards for surgery.
Last chance saloon
Prior to Lancashire’s season opener against Middlesex at Lord’s this season, Hameed had played 30 first-class matches since and passed 50 on just three more occasions.
Was it a confidence issue, after suffering that injury? Is it technique? Maybe just sheer bad luck. Either way, it had Lancashire’s hierarchy scratching their heads and England’s selectors looking elsewhere.
But, criticism from the top aside, Hameed is in the right place to recover. He will spend at least the first half of this season batting alongside another England opener with a point to prove in Keaton Jennings.
James Anderson is also in the Lancashire line-up, while Glenn Maxwell is their overseas signing – with all four featuring at Lord’s against Middlesex.
It is experience in abundance, and with Anderson and Jennings hoping to return to Lord’s when England face Ireland later this summer, the national selectors will be watching Lancashire’s progress keenly.
Playing in Division Two is not the graveyard for batsmen it could be either – Rory Burns passed 1,000 runs in consecutive years for Surrey in 2014 and 2015, starting his own rise to opening the batting for England.
Back on track?
And if you are looking for positive signs of resurgence from a player who, at 22, still has the world at his feet, you only have to look at his start to the summer.
Facing the Loughborough MCCU team, in Lancashire’s final warm-up match, Hameed batted for more than six hours, hitting 32 fours and two sixes on his way to 218.
It would have been his highest first-class score, except the match did not fall within the official first-class MCCU fixtures – Loughborough having already played their prescribed two first-class matches for the year.
Personal statistics aside, however, the innings could still prove to be one of the most important in the 22-year-old’s career.
That he followed it by immediately ending his long wait for a century, against a Middlesex bowling attack featuring Tim Murtagh, Steven Finn and Toby Roland-Jones, was a further sign of encouragement.
This is a big year for Haseeb Hameed’s future, not just in terms of his international aspirations but for his county career too.
But you do not open the batting for England aged 19, and hit a half-century in that game too, without having some serious talent.
Paul Allott has laid bare the challenge facing Hameed this season, but if it turns out to be the spark that re-ignites his career, perhaps the director of cricket’s man-management approach was spot on after all.