April 25, 2021, County Ground, Worcester. It was the final day of the Group 1 County Championship match between Worcestershire and Nottinghamshire with the home team firmly in control. On the previous morning, Haseeb Hameed had walked in with fellow opener Ben Slater for Notts’ 1st innings and here he was again, not out on 37 in the 2nd innings, following-on a deficit of 160 runs.
Hameed, who top scored in the first innings with 111, continued like it was a marathon as he reached his fifty and then to a hundred by the end of tea. He and Slater (both scored 114) put on 236, without losing a wicket all day, saving the match for Notts. Hameed had spent a total of 13 hours and 41 minutes across two innings and faced 635 balls, the most faced by a batsman in a single County Championship match.
The ending of the match was like waking up from the Lazarus pit for Hameed. Around five years ago, he had opened the batting for England alongside Sir Alastair Cook against India at Rajkot, his ancestral place in Gujarat. He made 31 and 82 in that match and an unbeaten 52 in Mohali in the third Test of that series. At 19, Hameed was the youngest Test opener for his country with Cook and Indian skipper Virat Kohli praising his unflappable style.
Now 24, it’s almost impossible to identify the Hameed from that tour of India. The clean shaven face and trim haircut spoke of a different Hameed, who now sports long locks and rugged facial hair. The cherubic exuberance visible through the helmet grill is now replaced with a hermit like composure.
May be the national team promotion and spotlight came a little too early. Hameed was a rookie, just one and half season old in County cricket when an opening role for England came beckoning. He was exceptional, scoring 1,129 at an average of 52 and was the first opener from Lancashire to play for the senior team since Michael Atherton. Carrying the moniker “Baby Boycott” might’ve become too heavy for the Bolton-born lad as his numbers fell drastically.
He played 30 matches between 2017-18 for Lancashire and scored just three fifties in 52 innings which baffled many who touted him as the next big thing in English cricket.
“Haseeb Hameed is a dilemma for us – we gave him more opportunity, probably, than he deserved,” Lancashire director of cricket Paul Allot, told BBC Radio Lancashire in 2018. “Far too many games, probably, but having said that I’ve not seen a more talented young opening batsman in my 40-odd years in the game.”
The year 2018 also saw Hameed’s stint with the national development side England Lions come to a halt. Far away from an England berth, Allot sounded the warning bell in 2019, saying Hameed was “hanging on by his fingertips” for a place in the Lancashire team.
The opener seemed to have found a reply for Allot, when he began the County season with a 218 against Loughborough MCCU and an 117 against Middlesex in the second match, but got past 50 only once in 12 innings that year. His score of 11 against Sussex in July, 2019 was the last for his boyhood team, as Lancashire released him by the season end.
Few felt he was weak against pace bowling, while some said he was being coached by multiple people which hurt his technique. Just 22 years old, finding a new team wasn’t difficult for Hameed, as Nottinghamshire signed him in 2020 on a two-year contract after some competition from Worcestershire.
However, his turnaround wasn’t immediate but new atmosphere seemed to have helped. Hameed played just five matches in the pandemic-ridden first season, scoring 272 runs which included three fifties. He built on the foundation by scoring 642 runs from 15 innings, including four fifties besides the twin hundreds against Worcestershire in the ongoing season.
The performances earned him a place in England’s County Select XI for India’s practice match where he top scored with 112 in the first innings. It’s almost a coincidence that Hameed, now older and wiser, will return to the national side for a Test series against India when England are looking for options at the top of the order.