As much as schadenfreude is a through and through part of watching sport, so is second-hand sadness. There are times when you cannot help but feel for a team, or an individual, even when you, as a fan, are on the right side of things.
Case in point a penalty shootout. You feel happy that your team won, but you still almost always find yourself empathizing with the player who missed the decisive penalty.
Haseeb Hameed getting bowled off his first ball at Lord’s, on his comeback, invoked a similar feeling of vicarious sadness. No matter who you were cheering for, it was hard not to feel for Hameed at that moment.
The story goes like this: kid shines on debut, is earmarked for greatness and then, out of nowhere, falls off a cliff. He then picks himself up, stages a remarkable comeback and breaks back into the starting XI of the national team. But BOOM, he is humiliated on his first ball back.
Whoever wrote that script must have been sadistic. There is nothing worse than watching an underdog story get abruptly cut short.
In both sport and life, though, a glorious rise feels all the more sweeter when it is preceded by a damning fall. Perhaps that explains why there was a sense of healing and overwhelming warmth when Hameed got to his half-century as the sun shone on the first day at Headingley.
This time around, the writers nailed the script - well, partially, at least. The perfect climax would have been Hameed bringing up a maiden Test ton but we can remain optimistic that the big payoff will arrive sometime in the near future.
In no uncertain terms, Hameed’s knock in the first innings at Headingley was glorious. The straight bat he presented throughout the innings was a sight for sore eyes. His drives and late-cuts were therapeutic, and the way he dead-batted the seamers tirelessly, with that giant stride of his, was drop dead gorgeous. As a viewer, you didn’t want it to end. That it came in a do-or-die situation for England made it all the more majestic.
But verdicts about his knock can wait. What we need to be celebrating, and shedding light on, right now is his story. And his is a story that is powerful enough to inspire people across fields; it can instill belief within those enduring dark times that there is always the tiny possibility of there being light at the end of the tunnel.
In 2019, in an article titled ‘The Curious Case of Haseeb Hameed’, Wisden’s Phil Walker perfectly summed up Hameed’s struggles. “If cricket is played in the mind, Hameed’s cerebellum must be about to combust,” Walker wrote, referring to how the more Hameed tried, the more he failed. Those who observed Hameed closely reckoned that he was pushing himself too hard.
Hameed had his reasons for it. The extra extra extra effort he was putting in emerged out of disappointment and frustration. In the preceding season, Hameed, then only 21, had averaged 9.70 across 17 innings for Lancashire. There are lows and then there is the slump that Hameed went through. Most first-class batters would average more than 9.70 even if they batted with their non-dominant hand.
That Hameed’s 9.70 campaign came on the back of a 2017 season where he averaged 28.50 - a far cry from the 49.91 he averaged in 2016, months before debuting for England - made it evident that he was in the midst of an alarming slide.
Months after the Wisden article, Lancashire released Hameed on the back of another middling season, where he averaged 28.41. On one hand England’s top-order stocks soared, with the rise of Sibley, Burns and Crawley, but then there was Hameed, the once-supposed successor to Cook’s throne, who found himself without a County contract in an Ashes year.
At this point in time, playing again for England would have been the last thing on Hameed’s mind; he’d have been grateful to just play professional cricket for the rest of his 20s and 30s.
Which is why it is remarkable that, just two years on, Hameed finds himself as England’s first-choice opener. Sure, he’s been the right man at the right time. And yes, the reputation he carries has helped him leapfrog a lot of contenders, some of whom were arguably more deserving of a call-up than him. But his rise and fall and rise - even though the second ‘rise’ is still in its embryonic stages - has been nothing short of extraordinary.
It is common for prodigies to have the world at their feet at a very young age. And, sadly, it is also common for the very same prodigies to fall from grace and never rise again. Most of them end their careers as ‘what if’ stories.
A relevant example is Unmukt Chand, whose expected redemption never arrived. 12 days ago, Chand retired from all cricket in India, almost conceding that he might never be able to scale the same heights once again.
In Football, Hachim Mastour, the once-next-big-thing, was snapped up by AC Milan in 2012 for €500,000 at the age of 14. At 16, he made his senior debut. He now plays for Carpi in Serie C, the third division of Italy.
Jack Wilshere, who dominated the great Barcelona midfield at 18, and was touted to become an Arsenal Legend and England captain, currently does not have a club. In a recent interview to the Athletic, Wilshere revealed that he finds no purpose to life, and admitted that, a decade ago, he did not imagine that he would be club-less at 29.
There is every chance that Hameed, not too long ago, might have felt the same. In under three years he went from being England’s next big superstar to a player who his boyhood club did not want. The human mind, brain and heart is not wired to deal with such adversities. Not at the tender age of 22, anyway. Hence his rapid rise back to the top is almost unprecedented.
It is one thing to know that you have talent, but to have the belief that the very talent which did not aid you for three years will still be enough for you to scale the greatest of heights is preternatural.
No wonder Hameed did not flinch, today, in the first session, when he was first roughened up by Bumrah, then hit smack on the helmet by the same bowler. He sported a smile which almost meant to convey, “Seriously, Jasprit. You think I'll be intimidated by your bouncers after having been through what I've been through?".
No doubt Hameed would have been disappointed in missing out on a hundred. Just like any other batsman. But the significance of this 68 cannot be understated.
Somewhere in this world there is probably a young batsman in his 20s going through a torrid run. He might even be on the verge of giving up the sport altogether, coming to terms with the fact that he might not cut it. For that youngster, there can be no better inspiration than Hameed who, himself, mind you, is still very much a kid.
Some knocks mean more than others. For Hameed, this 68 is probably as significant a knock he will ever play in his career.