November 9, 2016

Memo to Haseeb: no hundreds, please

Why England's teenaged opener should be wary of doing too well in this series

It's okay to be pretty, but let's not go thinking of Test centuries just yet © Getty Images

The writing of this blog was significantly delayed on Tuesday night by the world-shuddering, era-defining drama unfolding on the electoral battlefields of the USA. I will admit, I did not vote for Mr Trump - principally for logistical reasons, such as not being American, and not being an expert in the noble art of electoral fraud. Another significant factor was that I am sceptical about the benefits of having a man of Trump's ilk in charge of (a) a global superpower, (b) a nuclear arsenal, (c) an ICC Associate member nation (whether suspended or not), or (d) anything, particularly when that Trumpian man is Donald Trump.

However, from the point of view of English cricket, beginning a Test series away from home, Trump's election, whether or not it provokes the Armageddonic scenarios some have predicted, is unquestionably good news. For England are undefeated in winter Test series following a Republican presidential victory since 1980.

In 1984, after Ronald Reagan's re-election, David Gower led England to a 2-1 victory in India. In 1988, following George Bush Sr's victory, England had the winter off after the cancellation of another Indian tour. When Bush Jr "won" his first election, in 2000, England followed up by winning in both Pakistan and Sri Lanka, and the re-election of the controversial W in 2004 presaged Michael Vaughan's team winning 2-1 in South Africa.

No wonder then, that India's fielders began with the nervous-handed edginess of a condemned turkey at a Christmas party. They knew that the forces of political fury were doing more than turning accepted wisdom and the status quo on their baffled, addled heads; they were making an England series victory inevitable.

Despite the historic certainty of defeat, India struck back well as the session progressed, curtailing Haseeb Hameed's promising debut innings, which began with a beautiful Dravidian first-ball leave and interspersed moments of luck with old-school defensive stylings and occasional ethereal drives.

Hameed could have ten innings as a teenaged Test opener in this series, before he turns 20 in January. He is an ambitious young man. And will therefore be feverishly hoping not to do too well, and above all, not to score a century. Only six teenaged openers have scored a Test hundred. Four of them - Archie Jackson, Mohammad Ilyas, Nafees Iqbal and Adrian Barath - failed to reach three figures again, though Jackson surely would have done had illness and a tragically early death not intervened, and Barath, at 26, is theoretically young enough to remove himself from this list. Not playing top-level domestic cricket in any format for more than two years is not the best way about doing so, however.

The two of the six who did trouble the honours boards after turning 20 are both Pakistanis. As an 18-year-old in May 2000, Imran Nazir scored a match-turning 180-ball 131 against West Indies (including Ambrose and Walsh). He then hit 127 against New Zealand in his first Test as a 20-year-old, before, in the then-classic Pakistan fashion, playing only two more Test matches ever. Nazir has not played a Test for 14 years. He is seven and a half years younger than Misbah-ul-Haq. Only Pakistan cricket could have concocted this paragraph.

The only teenage opener-centurion to have made multiple subsequent Test hundreds is a man who features on no one's list of Classic Test Openers - Shahid Afridi. In the seldom discussed Greatest Test Innings by a Teenaged Test Opener debate, only Jackson's debut 164, scored in the 1928-29 Adelaide Ashes Test, comes even close to rivalling Afridi's 141 in Chennai in the famous Test match in 1998-99.

Afridi made his runs in five hours, off 191 balls, out of a total of 286 all out. Pakistan won by 12 runs, and the only other batsman to pass 60 in the match was the undeniably useful Sachin Tendulkar, whose fourth-innings 136 almost won the Test for India. A stellar Test career beckoned for one of cricket's more extravagant talents. Afridi made four Test hundreds after passing 20 (only one of which was as an opener, against West Indies in February 2002), while he gradually and successfully convinced himself that he was not a Test-match cricketer, despite the convincing early evidence to the contrary.

History suggests that success for Hameed would be a recipe for failure. He should be aiming for adequacy, modelling himself on some fine players of recent and bygone times who have opened in their teens with moderate returns. Kraigg Brathwaite made some admirable battling half-centuries before turning 20, but averaged just 21.3 in his nine teenaged Tests; since then he has averaged 44.0 in 25 Tests. England's recent scourge Tamim Iqbal played a record 18 Test innings as a teenaged opener, in which he averaged 22.8. In his twenties, Tamim has averaged 45.2. Zimbabwe's Brendan Taylor played ten Tests as a teenager, opening in six of them, with a teen-opener average of 19.8. He averaged 46.5 in the second phase of his sadly curtailed Test career, during which he never opened the batting. Further back in history, Hanif Mohammad's teen average was 29.2, with no hundreds in 16 innings; he averaged 46.1 as an opener after turning 20 (and 47.2 in all positions).

Trump's election is unquestionably good news. For England are undefeated in winter Test series following a Republican presidential victory since 1980

The message for England, then, is not to expect - or demand - instantaneous statistical effectiveness from Hameed, for all the straightness of his bat and purity of his strokeplay on display in Rajkot. The message for Hameed is, for the sake of his own Test-playing longevity, to avoid conspicuous success at all costs. Do not pass three figures. It would be a historicostatistically unarguable sign that he is not cut out for Tests. You cannot fight facts. (A claim which, admittedly, this globally unheaving year would strongly dispute.)

 In their match-turning first-innings collapse in Perth, Australia lost all ten wickets for under 100 runs for the tenth time since their Ashes-losing Oval disintegration in 2009. That is as many ten-wicket sub-100 slides as they had suffered in the previous 28 years, since Headingley 1981, which itself was the tenth such subsidence since the Laker Test at Old Trafford in 1956 (when they slumped from 48 for 0 to 84 all out in the first innings).

The baggy green bowlers have been building some impressive platforms for their batsmen to hurl themselves off. For the second time in consecutive Tests, and third in the last four, Australia have bowled first, reduced their opponents to four down for less than 50 in the first innings, and lost.

They had only done so once since 1979 (a low-scoring 13-run defeat in Mumbai in 2004-05); in that time, they had won 12 and drawn two of the other 14 Tests in which they had had their opponents four down for under 50 in the opening innings of the match.

Few bowling attacks have begun matches as effectively as the 2016 Australians. They have bowled first in all of their seven Tests this year, in which games their opponents' top four first-innings partnerships have averaged 19.1 runs per dismissal, equating to an average score of 76 for 4.

To put that in historic context, since 1955, only three teams have returned a lower average for their opponents' top four first-innings stands in any calendar year (this is counting the team's first innings, rather than just the opening innings of the match).

West Indies in 1962 played one series, a five-match home rubber against India, in which they had their opponents four down for an average of 55. England in 1967 reduced their opposition to an average first-innings predicament of 62 for 4; they played six Tests, all at home in a split summer against India and Pakistan. The 2000 Australian attack, in eight Tests, had an average first-innings start of 72 for 4. Between them, those three sides won 18 of those 19 Tests, the exception being Pakistan's draw at Lord's in 1967.

Steven Smith's 2016 Australians, by contrast, have now won two, drawn one and lost four of their last seven Tests. Historically, skittling your opponents' top order in the first innings has proved to be a sound strategy. Truly, there are no certainties in this world anymore.

Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on BBC Radio 4, and a writer

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • landl47 on November 14, 2016, 21:04 GMT

    Only 5 teenagers have previously played for England. Jack Crawford in the early 1900s was a brilliant schoolboy cricketer, but only played a handful of tests. Ian Peebles was a lbg bowler, good player and captain but a much better writer. Denis Compton went on to become one of England's greatest cricketers and if WW2 hadn't broken out when he was 21, who knows how many runs he might have scored? Brian Close first played for England in 1949, last played in 1976 and fought constantly with officials, administrators, other players and everyone else in between. Ben Hollioake was tragically killed in 2002, with his life, cricketing and otherwise, just beginning. Haseeb doesn't seem to have much in common with any of them, which is perhaps a good thing. I hope he will have a great career- and if he scores more runs than Denis Compton, England will be well pleased.

  • cricfan78122727 on November 14, 2016, 12:28 GMT

    Hamilton and Ashraful did get hundrends as teenagers but they were not openers

  • sapnil2000 on November 10, 2016, 0:20 GMT

    what about mohammad ashraful or hamilton masakadza

  • GladStone92 on November 9, 2016, 18:03 GMT

    Cricket is truly my only solace right now. Thank you Andy!

  • cricfan13407563 on November 9, 2016, 12:25 GMT

    Some Grade A nonsense there Andy - thanks

    Cricket is the only solace

  •   Cricinfouser on November 9, 2016, 11:31 GMT

    That paragraph about Imran Nazir is a sad reflection of Pakistan cricket

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