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Runs and Ramadan: How Haseeb Hameed's faith is keeping him grounded

Notts opener believes he's turned a corner since disappointment of 2021-22 Ashes

Sam Dalling
19-Apr-2023
Haseeb Hameed is back at Trent Bridge after a difficult winter, Trent Bridge, March 31, 2022

Haseeb Hameed is back in the runs with Nottinghamshire after a fruitful winter with England Lions  •  Getty Images

Haseeb Hameed is smiling. He does that a lot during a brief, yet enlightening, sit-down in a squash-court-cum-memorabilia-signing room nestled behind Trent Bridge's Pavilion.
Speaking frequently of blessings, of gratitude, and of excitement, Hameed is plainly a man at ease. There is much gesticulation of fingers that unmistakably belong to an opening batter, too. West Bridgford's bandage suppliers are clearly thriving.
You seem happy, Haseeb? Another grin. A pause. There is always one before Hameed responds: a luxury often denied him at the wicket, he takes the time to process his thoughts. "I'm enjoying being here," he begins. "I feel like I'm a big part of the team, and like we've got an exciting squad that can achieve great things.
"And we are very lucky. Not only do we have great coaches and great players, but they are great people first and foremost. You've got people around you who wish well for you and have got your best interests at heart. Naturally then, being here makes me excited and happy."
Much of Hameed's happiness can be attributed to his faith, and its interaction with life as an elite athlete. Hameed is - like million of Muslims worldwide, including a large handful of county cricketers - currently observing Ramadan.
Taking place during the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, Muslims believe Ramadan marks the anniversary of God revealing the first verses of the Qur'an, Islam's holy book. Eid al-Fitr, the festival celebrating the end of Ramadan, falls this Friday. "It's the most blessed period of nights throughout the year," Hameed explains. "Especially these last 10 nights, which we are in now. It is special and we try to make the most of it.
"It brings us together as a community, and as family and as friends. We have a long night prayer [Tarawih] together at the local Mosque every night. That is unique to Ramadan. It's a great opportunity for me to connect with people, sharing the same thing, having the same purpose. It's a pretty special place to be."
And Nottinghamshire's people-centric approach has ensured sporting demands have dovetailed, rather than conflicted, with Hameed's spiritual needs. "Mick [Newell], Mooresy [Peter Moores], Mull [Steven Mullaney], everyone really, have been very accepting and supportive of me fulfilling the obligations of Ramadan," Hameed says.
"The level of understanding is rising, which is great. People are becoming more aware of the differing demands players have. They've recognised that cricket is a huge part of most of our lives at this level, but we've also got other things that are important as well.
"All you ask is for people to be receptive and help support that. And I've certainly felt that here. They have gone out of their way to support me."
Hameed's obligations include fasting from sunrise to sunset, which means he must draw external energy under darkness's cover. He then prays before returning to bed until his cricketing obligations kick in. "Nottinghamshire recognised that the pre-dawn meal is 3.30-4am. If I am playing, or if I've got training on, there's a physical or nutritional need. Nottinghamshire have supported that, making sure I've had enough food or drink even at that time.
"Last week, at Hampshire - and to be fair the chef at the Hilton was outstanding as well - conversations were had from the club to support that. Straight away when you've got that… I feel very lucky and very privileged to have that. And I am very grateful for it."
One option for Ramadan observers is to invoke an exemption and make the days up elsewhere. Hameed has done just that himself in the past, but this season has taken an alternative approach.
"I chose to fast on one of the days during pre-season and it felt fine. I love the month itself and what it means to us anyway. Aside from the physical challenges, there is so much gain and benefit we take out of it. For me, it was more tapping into that element of it. And the physical challenges weren't as great as I'd anticipated. I've gone with the flow, taken it on a day-by-day basis and so far, it's gone alright."
Ramadan though, is about more than just fasting. It is a period of spirituality, of connection. And during lean times, Hameed has done some learning of his own: "That's what faith is all about," he tells ESPNcricinfo. "Everyone that knows me will know that I'm very passionate about the game, trying to give absolutely everything that I have.
"By no means do we take our jobs and our profession lightly. But faith does put it into perspective. There is more to life. And if anything, it helps your mindset towards the game. You can't make anything in this life too important. For us the most important thing is faith, that greater purpose, and knowing that everything in this life is temporary. It will come to pass."
And pass, it has.
Hameed had a golden first full summer, when, as a baby-faced teenager in 2016, he averaged a shade under 50 en-route to 1119 County Championship runs. His reward was a trio of Tests during the winter tour of India, during which he made a pair of half-centuries. A broken finger, though, curtailed his involvement. Few would have predicted that 1717 days would pass before Hameed next featured.
The issue - and for a time it must have felt insurmountable - was that between 2017 and 2020, Hameed made just 1291 County Championship runs. He passed 50 only eight times and made just one century. In 2018, his returns were a meagre 165 runs in 17 innings.
By no means do we take our jobs and our profession lightly. But faith does put it into perspective. There is more to life. And if anything, it helps your mindset towards the game. You can't make anything in this life too important.
Such was Hameed's fall from grace, he was released by Lancashire at the end of 2019. That could have been terminal to his career. Hameed needed nurturing, and that is where Nottinghamshire came in. Under Peter Moores the tap of runs was once again opened. It did not always flow freely, but the water pressure was sufficient to earn Hameed a Test recall for the home India series in 2021. He then started that winter's Ashes but was axed with one match remaining. The old Hameed might have buckled. But instead, 2022 was another Willy Wonka season.
Nottinghamshire were promoted. Hameed racked up 1,235 runs with seven fifties and four hundreds. "I had conversations with Rob Key [managing director of the England men's team] towards the back end of last year, just to see where things were, and where I stood," Hameed explains. "The messaging was clear from the top as to the style of play that they're adopting now. Obviously, I felt like my game had evolved and, in many ways, coincided with the change that the Test team has made as well.
"I'd made that change a little bit before the team had," Hameed continues. A bold claim but one borne out in a strike-rate of 62.41 last summer, well up on the 39.01 he achieved in 2016.
"That married together well, in the sense that I was going in that direction and so was the Test team. It's about being able to soak up pressure where necessary and then apply it yourself. You need to be brave enough to back your strengths to do that."
That means room remains for both absorption and counter-attack. Take Nottinghamshire's shellacking of Somerset last week, a low-scoring game that saw just three half-centuries made.
Two came at strike-rates north of 80, while Hameed made a patient 65 from 151 balls. His opening stand with Ben Duckett was worth 125 on the first morning. It took Hameed 29 deliveries to trouble the scorers, and his first boundary only came after he had faced a full six overs.
Hameed articulately distinguishes between an innings of necessity, and getting "sucked into a defensive survival mindset," citing the disastrous 2021-22 Ashes as an example of the latter. "I think that is the wrong one in my opinion. I think that was a big reason why we performed like we did [in Australia]."
Pluralisation is by no means Hameed exempting his own part, a part that saw him make just 80 runs in four Tests. "That was a huge learning experience for me as well," he adds. "Naturally, it was quite a low point. Those low points though, from experience, can be the ones you learn most from."
Hameed is also learning from Duckett, his newly anointed opening partner at Nottinghamshire. "Our paths have crossed beautifully over the course of our cricketing careers," Hameed says.
Duckett skippered Hameed at England Under-19 level, was his first partner for the full England side (during a touring game in Chittagong in October 2016) and also played in Hameed's Test debut the following month.
Given what his friend has achieved over the winter - through his return to the Test team after an absence lasting more than six years and an all-but-guaranteed place for the upcoming Ashes - is Duckett a source of inspiration? "What he has done is no surprise to any of us here. We know what he's capable of. I think he has surprised a few people, though.
"It's amazing how after that Test trip that he had [to India in 2016], people wrote him off against spin. But actually, he is one of the strongest players against spin, not only in the country but in the world.
"What he has showed in Pakistan was everything that we've known for a number of years. That media narrative has completely changed after one tour. I'm buzzing for him."
Against Somerset, Duckett reverse-swept England spinner Jack Leach's second ball of the match for six, passing 50 in the process. "He said it was one of the better ones he has ever hit," says Hameed, half through laughter, half through sheer awe. "If most players pulled that out, you'd be in awe for a period. But with Ducky it's so normal, it's so regular, it's just another one for him. He's a special talent."
Do Hameed's hopes of a recall depend on developing similar strokes? "It's funny because I had a conversation with Ducky yesterday…'fancy teaching me how to switch-hit?' I have used it on occasions in the past where I've felt it necessary. The field and passage of play kind of dictates quite a lot of that. The switch hit is one I need to develop, especially hitting into the stands like he does!"
So, are you one to relentlessly hit ball after ball in the nets? The laughter returns. "The lads will say I do. It's important to make sure it's purposeful, though. You don't want to just hit balls for the sake of hitting balls.
"I think it's a mistake you can make as a younger player: you watch these great players hitting a lot of balls, but you don't connect as much to why they are hitting balls and the purpose behind it. I feel like I've tapped into that a little bit more."
Such a conclusion requires both maturity and mental clarity: "After the Australia tour, I think I was clear in my head as to how I wanted to go forward with my cricket. The biggest change was mindset.
"I wanted to try and put pressure on the bowlers and look to score runs first and foremost, and almost acknowledging and accepting that you are going to get out. Every batter does. "That's why people have averages and the better bowlers that you face, the more need there is to put pressure on them, I feel.
"The game rewards that, too. Naturally, it makes the bowlers bowl a bit differently, opening scoring opportunities yourself. All in all, it's proven to help my game. That's been my biggest change."
The proof of the pudding came in Hameed's winter of feasting in Abu Dhabi. Lining up for the Lions against the Test side preparing for their Pakistan tour, he made 145 from just 172 balls.
The England attack contained James Anderson, Ollie Robinson, Leach, Matt Potts and Jamie Overton. "Straight away, facing that for two weeks, you are going to come back a better player," he says casually, deliberately avoiding focusing on his personal brilliance.
That impressive knock was followed with 81 as Lions captain in Sri Lanka in early 2023. Hameed is close to international cricket again. "For me it's simple: keep on doing that and hopefully the rest will look after itself."
And with that, Hameed is off. There is a game to be won.

Sam Dalling is a freelance cricket writer, he tweets at @SamJDalling