Much has been made of fate’s neat trick in seeing Haseeb Hameed take his England Test bow and perform so creditably in Gujarat. His influential father was born there, with the region’s dialect still being used as the first language within the now family home in Lancashire. It was therefore rather bold of migration and destiny – in the year the former concept has taken such a battering – to come up with this perfect loop. For another local, Cheteshwar Pujara, this was also an unforgettable occasion as the Indian batsman notched a ton on home sweet home soil, but it was Hameed who stole both the show and, memorably, his dad’s tearful emotions.
There is also another twist of fate, though not so pleasant, in the coming of Hameed. On Saturday, as he began his conscientious but chic second innings, his overseas county team mate at Lancashire last season, Alviro Petersen, was being charged with match-fixing and various related offences by Cricket South Africa. Petersen - who denies the accusations - batted at four for the county and shared many hefty partnerships with the teenage opener. Their stands were a contrast of styles, age and experience, a fact noted by cricket writer Paul Edwards back in May during Hampshire’s visit to Old Trafford:
“[But] Petersen is 17 years older than Hameed and has played exactly 200 more first-class matches. He is stronger, cricket-fitter and knows his game far better. At the moment Petersen has more of everything…except time.”
Hameed, though, seems to be learning with every second. The thought of what he might achieve in the next twenty years is tantalising. It should be tempered by the fact that, for all his gifts, he won’t actually be twenty until January.
Hameed has nonetheless variously been compared to Geoffrey Boycott and Mike Atherton. Certainly he has the geometric defence of the former and the ‘crouch then pounce’ cover drive of the latter. Like the young Atherton, his shirt also seems too big for his slight frame, a surplus of cotton apt for a boy from the former mill capital of Bolton, a town just a short hop from the ex-England captain’s home of Failsworth. For both players the look of fragility is deceptive. At the crease, Hameed – like many England batsmen in the Rajkot Test – was like a fencer, advancing purposefully and retreating deeply to counter India’s fiery spin trident. When he leaves the ball, he does so with such dashing panache, Courtney Walsh must feel prosaic.
In the field, he was given the rookie’s chalice – a permanent spot at short leg where he snaffled several catches under a lid that also looked too spacious; a bat-pad Snoopy on the prowl for victims. In Bangladesh he was ticked off for oversleeping and missing the team bus. In India he looks intent on missing nothing.
Home fans seeing him for the first time may well have been confused at these pre-match comparisons to fellow northerners Boycs and Athers. He announced himself to the Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium, also making its Test debut, by flailing twice through point with feet that spoke more of Sehwag than stolidity. He soon settled into his more accustomed groove, but continued to adhere to the consensus among hardcore watchers of English cricket, the county voyeurs, that he is not bereft of delicious strokes, merely judicious in using them.
There has, in fact, been a certain and necessary pleasure following Hameed’s development in print via several of those county observers, and Edwards in particular. He does not yet play white ball cricket and so, despite the feast of Hameed runs to tuck into at the click of a button, has not been a regular feature on the public’s screens. He has crept into consciousness via the written word, and reading reports of his efforts over the summer felt like an appropriate throwback joy to go with his throwback, classical batting. In the week the world lost a great lyricist in Leonard Cohen, Edward’s trove of reports detailing Hameed’s rise is a reminder of cricket’s literary wealth, and not least this further pearl from a later game against Warwickshire:
“At its most serene the Lancashire opener's batting is as calming as a Chopin nocturne, as reassuring as the late-night shipping forecast. There were boundaries in his innings, five of them, in fact, and not all of them behind the wicket. Pulled fours off Barker and Rankin provided evidence of attacking capability yet Hameed's first instinct is, as yet, to make his wicket hard to take. 'Something there is that doesn't love a wall' wrote Robert Frost. But then he never saw the great Rahul Dravid..”
As England fans nervously awaited a return to the staccato collapses of their series in Bangladesh, Hameed in both innings orchestrated a wall of defiance. When he walked out in the second, the situation was precarious for his own team. When he departed, it was the hosts who were in choppy, and ultimately near-fatal, waters.
Jack Crawford’s record Test score for an English teenager stood 110 years until Hameed broke it in Rajkot. The Surrey prodigy, who set the mark with a 74 in Cape town in 1906, was subsequently banned by his county in a bizarre dispute over the strength of a side he had been asked to captain against the touring Australians of 1909. He disappeared from the English game for a decade – a loss making the Kevin Pietersen row look rather less consequential – returning triumphantly only in 1919. It is highly unlikely such a fate will befall Hameed, loved by his county and, as he coyly admits here, an icon in his locality alike, with his nation now also falling over itself in admiration. In 2016, the year of surprises, a lad with roots in Gujarat has made the case to be England’s future certainty.