When England returned from India at the end of 2016, it looked for all the world as if they had discovered a new opening batsman to serve them for a decade and more.
Haseeb Hameed had only played three Tests in that Test series before a broken finger ended his involvement. But so assured had the 19-year-old seemed, so accomplished had he appeared, it looked as if they had discovered Alastair Cook’s successor.
It was not to be. Returning to county cricket at the start of 2017, Hameed endured a horrid run of form. He had to wait until August to register a County Championship half-century and at one stage suffered four ducks in nine Championship innings. England couldn’t pick him.
The hope was the year would prove to be a blip. But it wasn’t. He averaged 9.70 in the 2018 Championship season and 28.41 in 2019. As much for his good as theirs, Lancashire released him ahead of 2020.
Nobody has yet been able to put their finger on what went wrong. There aren’t glaring technical flaws; there’s no lack of effort or obvious weakness. Some claim he wanted it too much. But they all do, really. Unless you’re committed, you won’t rise to the top. Those with simple answers tend to be those with simple minds.
But the story isn’t over. Signing for Nottinghamshire ahead of the 2020 season – he wasn’t the first and he won’t be the last to be charmed by their head coach Peter Moores – Hameed enjoyed a steady if unspectacular return to form. Thursday gave us, perhaps, the next step in his rehabilitation, with the announcement that he had signed a contract extension securing his future at Nottinghamshire until at least the end of 2022.
Some caution is required here: Hameed averaged 38.85 in 2020. There were three half-centuries in seven innings. That’s pretty good, but there were no centuries and he averaged about half what his opening partner, Ben Slater, did and about 20 fewer than another top-order player on that India tour, Ben Duckett. Talk of an England recall is premature.
Still, it is heartening to see him heading in the right direction, and to see him smiling as he talks about his cricket. He’s still only 23. It’s not unreasonable to think there could be brighter days ahead.
As he spoke on Thursday, it became clear how tough some aspects of the last few years have been and, as a consequence, what an achievement it is to return to a position where he is consistently scoring runs.
“I didn’t give it too much thought,” he replied when asked whether he considered leaving the game entirely. “Of course when you’re going through a tough phase there are a lot of different voices in your head. You go through that bit of difficult period. You get a number of different thoughts of walking away from the game. I’d say it was very tough. To have had the success I’ve had, to then have what followed… it hit quite hard.”
“Look at those who have achieved great things in life and in sports: these things don’t happen without setbacks and real slumps”
Haseeb Hameed is confident that he can revive his England career
There were hints, too, of what may have helped turn things around. Instead of concentrating on run-scoring, for example, Moores has him focused upon enjoyment. And instead of conversations about what he needed to do, teammates discussed his successes of the past.
“The Notts players appreciated this was a new chapter for me,” he said. “And they appreciated you don’t want to dwell on what happened. It was starting afresh. So we’ve just talked about good memories: I was able to score a few runs against Notts in red and white-ball cricket at Trent Bridge. Having those sort of conversations does help. And they signed me as a player. You can take confidence from that.
“Cricket is fun again. That became quite a focus: enjoying batting again, enjoying being with my team mates and all those different things. This environment is brilliant for that. It’s a lovely mix of younger lads who are extremely talented ambitious – Joe Clarke, Ben Duckett, Tom Moores and Zak Chappell – and extremely talented. To have that mix with the older guys who have been around the club for a long time is brilliant.”
It’s interesting to note, too, that Moores, once derided for his obsession with data, is now credited with uncluttering Hameed’s mind.
“Peter is a big believer in there being an information overload now,” Hameed said. “It’s easy to look at other players and think you’ve got to do this or that. But the key message from Mooresy is: trust your game. Make refinements, yes, but not wholesale changes.
“For me right now, it’s less about being so methodical and so watchful. It’s more about letting my game flow and enjoying the art of batting. It’s a case of not getting too caught up in almost survival. Yes, at the top of the order you do need a strong defence. But at the end of the day the game is about scoring runs and there is no point spending 100 balls at the crease to score 10 runs and then getting a good ball or a bad decision, and you’re out.”
Most of all, though, the whole episode speaks of a resilience within Hameed. There are no guarantees that he’ll ever recapture the spirit of that 19-year-old with the broken finger in Mohali. But there’s something admirable in the way he’s fought through the bad times. You’d need a heart of stone not to wish him well.
“I still look at myself as quite a young man within the game,” he said. “I look at it as something that can propel me to achieve greater things.
“One thing I’ve prided myself on from a young age is my best years were after my worst years. As a 15-year-old I won the player of year trophy at Lancashire and three awards at the Bunbury festival and then selection in the England development programme came after a year, when 14, I had the worst year of junior career.
“Then I look at not being selected for the U-19 World Cup and, a year later, going to Bangladesh in the senior team. That stuck with me. That tells me I’ve something deep down that won’t let me stop. Of course you have doubts. But that’s when you need something within you, deep down, to stop you giving in and try one more time. That mental resilience has been quite good for me.
“Look at those who have achieved great things in life and in sports: these things don’t happen without setbacks and real slumps. The ones that achieve more are the ones who have had the biggest slumps and bigger downfalls. To say those four years have been easy wouldn’t be true. It was very difficult.
“But I still want to push. I’m still clear what I want to achieve and I still have the confidence I will get there.”
Men’s Hundred – Eoin Morgan
Middle order failing to fire, absence of three members of Test squad, Maxwell’s relatively late withdrawal hurt winless London Spirit
But five games into their first season, the Spirit have been the Hundred’s weakest side. They are the only side in the men’s competition yet to win a game, and were thrashed in their fourth and final home fixture (one was a washout) by Northern Superchargers on Tuesday night. The table is still tight enough that they are mathematically in the running, but any realistic chances of qualifying for knockout stages have dissipated.
Their first three defeats were all tight, with each game going down to the final set of five balls. At Edgbaston, they were just short of par in setting Birmingham Phoenix 145 to win, and in the home losses against Trent Rockets and Southern Brave, they were two boundaries away from getting across the line.
“I think throughout tournaments, and group stages, you will be beaten by better sides. There are very few instances when sides go unbeaten throughout a tournament. Where the problem for us lies is that the previous two games we played, we played well for the majority but in clinical parts of the game, we didn’t finish the job and that’s hurt us.”
Perhaps the most puzzling aspect of their struggles has been the fact that the squad they assembled does not look like it was built with the long term in mind. While some sides have openly admitted that their draft strategy was to assemble a group that could develop over a number of years rather than simply targeting success in the Hundred’s first season, the Spirit picked a number of veterans and looked – to borrow terminology from the NFL – like a ‘win-now’ team.
All three players were signed as part of the draft in October 2019, rather than through the separate Test player mechanism. None of them held a red-ball central contract at the time – Crawley and Lawrence were both uncapped – and while it was not out of the question that they might miss some games due to inclusion in a Test squad in future seasons, the Spirit were unfortunate to miss all three simultaneously for the majority of this year. To make matters worse, one of the two games for which Crawley and Lawrence were both available was washed out.
“I think every team has gone through it, losing players, particularly their Test guys,” Morgan said. “It’s been challenging, but other sides have found a way. We’ve recruited well, we just haven’t managed to get over the line.
“We haven’t done a lot of things wrong in the previous games that we’ve played. Every game we’d played had gone right down to the wire but to be up there with the pace, you’re doing a lot of positive things. Today [against the Superchargers], we were just beaten.”
But the upshot is that the Spirit are the first men’s team facing a post-mortem into a season that has represented something of a false start. Mason Crane and Blake Cullen have shown flickers of promise with the ball, but positives for future years have been relatively hard to come by. Warne, who missed their last two games after testing positive for Covid-19, tweeted from self-isolation that their defeats against the Rockets and the Brave had been “embarrassing” – his verdict on the season to date is unlikely to be any more favourable.
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98
Bangladesh vs Australia T20Is, 2021
The 1994 tour to Pakistan was the last time a full series was not available to viewers in Australia
For the first time since 1994 a tour by the Australia men’s team will not broadcast into Australia after a last-minute deal failed to materialise for the rights to the T20I series in Bangladesh.
It had been hoped that in the absence of a traditional television deal the series would be streamed on YouTube but there was no live coverage into Australia.
While the occasional one-off limited-overs match has not been seen in Australia over the last few years, it is not since the 1994 tour of Pakistan that an entire series won’t have been shown.
The majority of Australia’s tours are broadcast by Fox Sports who secured the recent series against West Indies just a couple of days before it started but a similar outcome has not happened for Bangladesh.
The ongoing Olympics that is taking most of the attention, the 1am finish time of the matches in Bangladesh and the fact Australia are missing a host of first-choice players may also have been factors in the attractiveness of the series. However, it also highlights what is likely to become an increasingly challenging broadcast market, particularly for perceived lower-key tours.
The series will be the last chance for both sides to work on plans and assess players ahead of the T20 World Cup in October. It was confirmed on Monday that Bangladesh’s proposed series against England of three T20Is and three ODIs in late September had been postponed until March 2023.
Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo
IPL 2021 – Eoin Morgan to return to Kolkata Knight Riders for second half of IPL
He says involvement of other England players in the tournament, scheduled in September-October in the UAE, was a matter of personal choice
England were due to play three ODIs and three T20Is in Bangladesh in September-October but the ECB and the BCB released statements on Tuesday morning confirming that they had “mutually decided” to postpone the tour until March 2023. The IPL is due to resume on September 19 after its postponement midway through the season earlier this year, with the tour’s postponement opening up the opportunity for England’s white-ball players to take part ahead of the T20 World Cup in the UAE.
Speaking after his London Spirit side were beaten by Northern Superchargers in the Hundred at Lord’s on Tuesday night, Morgan confirmed that he intends to return to captain the Knight Riders in the rest of the IPL, and said that the involvement of other England players with contracts in the tournament was a matter of personal choice.
“It’s a complete individual decision,” Morgan said. “I think it was a win-win either way. If we went to Bangladesh we’d play in conditions that are foreign to us. If some guys go to the IPL, they’ll play in similar conditions [to the World Cup] or for guys that need a rest, they take a rest.
“We’ve a lot of cricket to play between now and then. We’ve planned on the tour going ahead – that’s been part of our planning for a long time now – but equally, given the nature in which we now compete and live our lives, it’s not a bad thing for guys to either take time off or go to the IPL if they feel refreshed and have enough energy.”
England’s only two remaining T20I fixtures before the World Cup starts on October 17 are due to be played in Pakistan on October 14 and 15, with the ECB and the PCB both confident that the tour will go ahead. The IPL final is also due to be played on October 15, creating a possible clash for any players whose franchises reach that stage of the tournament.
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98
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