After bowling Gloucestershire out for 205 on the first day at Cheltenham in May 2019, Lancashire had 20 overs to bat out ahead of the close. It was the sort of situation in which an in-form opening batsman thrives: there was no pressure on them to score, simply to survive by leaving, ducking, weaving and blocking.
But in May 2019, Haseeb Hameed was not an in-form opening batsman. He came into this game on the back of two tame dismissals to the unheralded Worcestershire seamer Charlie Morris: trapped lbw looking to work a straight ball to the leg side in the first innings, and caught in the slips playing an expansive drive in the second. His previous 32 first-class innings had brought one hundred and no fifties; his director of cricket Paul Allott had suggested that he was “hanging by a thread” at the club.
One can only wonder what was going through his head at the non-striker’s end as Keaton Jennings clipped one off his pads out to straight midwicket, but on external evidence, it wasn’t a lot. He stared vacantly at the ball as Jennings called him through for a single, and looked up to see his partner bounding down the track towards him. Panicked, he put his head down and charged towards the keeper’s end but the throw was good, the keeper whipped off the bails, and Hameed’s miserable run had continued. He looked to the skies, dejected.
Hameed played six more Championship games in the season and was dropped without ceremony. In November 2016, he had made a battling, unbeaten half-century with a broken finger in Mohali, an innings so dogged and resolute that Virat Kohli marked him out as a “future star”. Since then, he has averaged 20.55 in first-class cricket, passing 50 five times in 67 innings.
Where did it all go so wrong?
The theories behind Hameed’s downturn in form are plentiful, though many of them rely on speculation. He played his first List A game at the start of 2017, and some suggest that playing 50-over cricket has made him lose his judgement outside his off stump.
Others blame the influence of his father, who took it upon himself to become Hameed’s batting coach during his teenage years. One source suggests that Lancashire’s coaches were frustrated with the extent to which Hameed allowed his father to influence his game, though it is all too easy to pedal the pushy Asian father stereotype: when things were going his way, it didn’t seem to be such a problem.
Justifiably, some feel he was hung out to dry by Allott. It is all too easily forgotten that Hameed is only 22 – that Lancashire’s director of cricket repeatedly expressed his disappointment to the press about Hameed’s form cannot have been helpful.
And finally, there is the suggestion that he might not have been the player many hoped in the first place. Of course, nobody makes nearly 1200 Division One runs as a 19-year-old without a great deal of talent, and he has long been marked out as a superstar in the making.
But, the theory goes, Hameed has always been a better player of spin than seam: 60 percent of the balls he faced in his only Test series were from spinners, and in the past three Championship seasons, only four of his 48 dismissals have been against spin. In three of his four Championship hundreds in his breakout year, more than a third of deliveries he faced were bowled by spinners; in his first ton, against Warwickshire, Jeetan Patel bowled 48.8 percent of the balls he faced.
In truth, it is hard to isolate a single factor with any great confidence. What those outside of Hameed’s close circle know is that he is a talented young player who has lost his way dramatically and publicly in the past three seasons: a switch of counties will surely do him good.
Hameed’s move to Nottinghamshire, initially on a two-year deal, seems like it will suit him. Several counties were interested in securing his signature, and while it is easy to point to the struggles of some of those batsmen who have moved to the club recently – Ben Duckett, Joe Clarke and Ben Slater, for example – as evidence that the grass isn’t always greener, it feels like a fresh start can only help him.
It was no surprise to see Hameed mention both Mick Newell (director of cricket) and Peter Moores (head coach) in the press release that accompanied the announcement of his signing, and while it might seem like a stretch, the wording – “a special mention to [them] for believing in me” – hinted at a sense of isolation towards the end of his time at Lancashire. And while Moores’ wider reputation has never recovered from his second spell as England coach – in particular the fallout from the debacle that was the 2015 World Cup – he remains one of the most popular and respected coaches on the county circuit, and young players relish the chance to work with him.
Throw in the prospect of playing on pitches that are generally pretty flat at Trent Bridge and the fact that his first season will see the club play in Division Two, and the move seems to lay the ideal foundations for a comeback. Hameed seemed destined for greatness three years ago, and is surely too good to endure many more lean seasons; both for his immediate interests and for his career in the long run, he needs this signing to work out.