By Richard Gibson/Daily Mail
As one inter-national career ends this week another is struggling to get into second gear.
The farewell to Alastair Cook at the Oval has coincided with another stalling of 21-year-old Haseeb Hameed’s bid to become his long-term successor as an England opening batsman.
Two years ago, aged 19 and the fifth youngest Test cricketer in England’s history, he wowed the nation with his intoxicating brew of skill, likeability and courage.
He made 82 on his debut in the first match of the series against India in Rajkot and then heroically completed another half-century in the third Test, despite nursing a shattered finger in his left hand. The only imponderable appeared to be how many caps he would go on to win.
As Hameed returned from India to have a plate inserted into the damaged finger, no one would have thought that number would remain at three.
But in a reminder that a player’s stock can fall as quickly as it rises, that looks much more plausible. On Monday, as Cook announced that his 161st Test would be his last, Hameed was dropped by Lancashire for a second time this summer.
The frustration is felt far and wide. Hameed is a role model for the Asian communities in which the ECB are dedicated to spreading the game and all the England selectors have needed was one solid score to select him again.
Yet his statistics have continued to decline. Last year his 512 County Championship runs came at an average of only 28.5. This year that figure has dipped to 9.7.
So how has a player, who earned private audiences with Virat Kohli and Sachin Tendulkar during that tour of India, gone from a fixture for years to come to one in a fix?
One answer is that his greatest strength has become his major weakness. The way Hameed left the ball during his breakthrough season of 2016 was so aesthetically pleasing and a throwback to a generation when substance suffocated style. The man dubbed the Baby Boycott by Sportsmail made bowlers bowl to him.
This season the same approach has caused calamity. On his way up, he appeared to know instinctively which deliveries to play. On his way down, he has lost his bearings, no longer sure of the whereabouts of his off stump.
Footwork that once looked neat and nimble was described as ‘wooden’ by a regular observer of his demise: opting to leave has contributed to at least nine of his dismissals this summer, including four in a row in the championship.
Three weeks ago, he appeared to have turned a corner when, as captain of Lancashire’s second XI, he struck an unbeaten 183 against Leicestershire. It proved a false dawn, however, and after four more failures Lancashire preferred Karl Brown, a player without a first-class appearance in two years, for this week’s match against Somerset at Taunton.
The most pressing issue is how to deal with the malaise. A return to regular work with his father Ismail has failed to justify the pre-season claim that: ‘I find that when I have worked with my dad and follow his guidance, my game has been in better shape.’
The dedication of father and son is unquestionable. After one early-season dismissal, the pair could be seen working assiduously in the Old Trafford nets by the last of the Saturday evening stragglers.
England batting coach Mark Ramprakash has been a regular visitor to Manchester too, highlighting that time is still being invested in one of only two players to have averaged more than 40 in Tests for England since captain Joe Root made his debut in 2012 — Root being the other. But there are doubters and even before his England call-up, one rival county worked on the theory that Hameed’s game had flaws, most notably against the short ball, and bounced him out twice. Some acknowledge that although he is undoubtedly a fine player of spin he has been a victim of over-promotion.
One county director of cricket said: ‘Credit to the lad for what he did in India in his debut series but I didn’t see a player close to the international set-up before they picked him. It was too early for him.’
Indeed, the theory that he was still learning his trade is supported by the fact that he appeared for England before playing any senior limited-overs cricket. It is debatable whether the onus of putting bat to ball, compared to the more patient approach in first-class mode, contributed to the drop in his numbers when he did so in 2017.
Now, as English cricket says goodbye to its batting Rolls-Royce, there is a great will from within to restart another car. The only question is how.
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