Haseeb Hameed: 'I always find a way back from rock bottom'
England opener focussed on fightback after grim campaign in Australia
It was hard not to be drawn into the romance of Haseeb Hameed's England recall last year. His rise as a teenager - a thousand-run season, a fifty on Test debut, praise from Virat Kohli - preceded a dramatic fall, which saw him released by his home county, Lancashire, at 22 after his form had vanished.
Reinvigorated by a move to Nottinghamshire, he started the 2021 season with twin hundreds against Worcestershire before making 112 for a County Select XI against an India attack led by Jasprit Bumrah. That was enough for him to win back his Test spot and after a false start via a first-baller on his return at Lord's, he made half-centuries at Leeds and The Oval to earn his place on the winter's Ashes tour.
But the shine soon wore off. Before he had even arrived in Australia there were doubts as to whether Hameed's game - in particular, his strength against spin, rather than high pace - would be suited to the conditions. He batted for nearly four hours across the first Test in making 25 and 27 but as England's tour began to disintegrate, so did he: scores of 6, 0, 0, 7, 6 and 9 saw him dropped for the final Test, and then again for the "red-ball reset" trip to the Caribbean.
Now, Hameed is back on the outside, looking out on a snowy Trent Bridge from the pavilion long room and reflecting on a tough winter. He only turned 25 in January, but his career has already had more ups and downs than the price of bitcoin.
"I've had a lot of setbacks in my short career - and even growing up as a junior I had setbacks - but one thing I've always been able to count on, thankfully, is finding a way to get back up from rock bottom," Hameed says. "I guess this is another opportunity to do that.
"Of course, getting dropped out of the team, and not getting selected for this most recent tour is difficult but hopefully I can count on those experiences to come back again. In my head, there is no doubt that, being 25 years old, I have got so much more to give and I'm looking forward to the future."
Hameed's technique - and specifically his low hands, which appear better suited to low, slow pitches than those found in Australia - came under the scanner as the series wore on. He retreated further and further into his shell, repeatedly edging through to Alex Carey behind the stumps.
Mark Ramprakash, who was England's batting coach when Hameed first broke into the side, hinted in a newspaper column this week that they had picked the wrong horse for the wrong course, saying he was "absolutely convinced he would have been successful in the West Indies - certainly in Antigua and Barbados". Hameed's own appraisal is that the pitches in Australia were "extremely challenging", and that his lean returns should be viewed within that context.
"A lot of people speak about games being suited to certain conditions and we saw there were a couple of pretty good wickets - in the first Test matches in particular - in the West Indies," he says. "Do I feel like I could've done well there? I do. As a player, of course you do. But they made that decision and it was not in my control.
"I ended up speaking to Mike Hussey [who was working on the series as a broadcaster] when I didn't play in the last Test match and he was saying he'd never seen conditions like it. I think that's been neglected a little bit, actually - how challenging the conditions were. It was like being in England, but with an extra 10kph in the wickets… because it was nipping and seaming off the deck quite considerably.
"You've got to add a bit of realism to it. That's not excuses, that's just pure facts. At the same time, do I feel like I could have done better? Of course. There were a few mistakes made, individually and as a group. We went into our shells a little bit after the first two Test matches and focused a little bit more on surviving or batting time as opposed to looking to score runs. Looking back now, I don't think that was the right mindset, either for me or for the team."
Peter Moores, head coach at Notts, agrees with Hameed's assessment. "It was about as tough as it gets. [He was playing on] pitches that had a bit in them for the bowlers, against one of the best attacks that's been around for a long time, so it was tough to go in first. He learned a huge amount. I've said to him that it won't get much tougher than that.
"A lot of the England players, they got exposed in certain ways. No-one will ever question Has' commitment to want to do well. Often it's more of a technical thing that they're getting exposed at that level, and they've got to come away and adjust but I've been really pleased with his approach. He's a student of a game and a craftsman. He wants to master the craft of batting and he's thrown himself right back into it and taken those lessons from that tour."
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England are in transition, looking for a new managing director, head coach (or two) and potentially a captain, too, ahead of their next Test against New Zealand in June. Hameed knows that a strong start to this Championship season is the only way he can present a case for selection, and insists his focus is on the here and now.
"The way I see it is that I've now had the opportunity to play against India and Australia in their home countries and most people would say it doesn't get much tougher than that," he says. "That's a great experience for me to have in my first ten games. To have seven of those away from home, in the opposition's backyard, will mean that I can count on those experiences to propel me forward.
"There's a series against New Zealand in June and then India are coming for that one Test they missed last year, and the likelihood is with the new people coming in, there might be a few changes again. But I'm focused now on doing as well as I can for Notts. Keeping things simple is important; you can't aim to get into teams or put timelines on things.
"It's been good just being back. Of course it was difficult straight after [Australia] with everything that happened but I'm lucky that I've got good people around me and I've got to a place now where I'm just looking to the immediate future. I can't think about June right now, even though I've obviously got that ambition to be there. I'm just trying to keep everything as simple as I can."
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98