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Hameed hopes 'flipped mindset' can help land role in England reboot

Opener channels free-scoring younger self in bid to win recall to Ben Stokes' Test team

Haseeb Hameed made 145 from 172 balls for England Lions in Abu Dhabi last November  •  ECB Images

Haseeb Hameed made 145 from 172 balls for England Lions in Abu Dhabi last November  •  ECB Images

England's warm-up match against the Lions in Abu Dhabi last November was an understandably selfish affair. The Test side needed some intense preparation ahead of a three-match tour of Pakistan, and two days into the three-day game, they decided to call it off altogether. They had got what they needed.
Beyond a much-anticipated return for Jofra Archer, who bowled nine overs on the opening day, there was not too much attention paid to those on the opposition. The Test side racked up 501 for 7, and by the end of day two, the Lion's score of 415 for 9 was secondary to the 77 overs of work from the senior attack.
However, it was on "day three" that Ben Stokes, an observer for this encounter, singled out one Lions member who had caught his eye. Someone whose game the England captain is familiar with, though perhaps not like this.
"He's someone you wouldn't necessarily have down for that type of innings," Stokes said of Haseeb Hameed, who peeled off 145 from 172 deliveries against an attack featuring James Anderson, Ollie Robinson and Jack Leach. "It's amazing to see a player like Has, who has done what he's done over five or six years, realising the potential that he can play that way, against our frontline attack."
It was as engaging as the scorecard suggests: the strike rate of 84.30 through 20 fours and a couple of sixes. There was a bit of fortune, with a questionable "not out" when pinned on the pad early doors. But otherwise, Hameed was an authoritative presence in the middle.
A new dawn for a player previous feted - and latterly derided - for his high elbow and low strike rates? Not quite. Even Stokes made a note of how this knock was a continuation of Hameed's work over the summer: 1235 runs at an average of 58.80 to propel Nottinghamshire back into Division One. All at a strike rate of 62.40 - almost double what it had been across his 10 Tests caps (32.02) and considerably higher than a career rate of 41.59 in all first class cricket.
Speaking ahead of the Lions' tour of Sri Lanka, in which he will act as captain for the red-ball leg of a warm-up and two four-dayers against Sri Lanka A, Hameed will take cues for the man skippering above: 'I'll have my own style (of captaincy) of course but the brand that Stokesy and co have implemented is now the England brand, whether you're with the Lions or the Test side. This whole idea of playing to win and being prepared to lose the game in order to win. One hundred per cent, I'll try to replicate that.'
He also appreciated Stokes's words from November and was open about shifting up a few gears. Not least after a dispiriting 2021-22 Ashes in which he averaged just 10 from four appearances.
"For him [Stokes] to come out and say that meant a lot to me," Hameed said. "It's nice because I guess the changes he's implemented with the England team coincides with the changes I've made on a personal level in terms of my game.
"I came back from that Australia tour and I was clear in how I was going to go about my game and start to look to score runs at every opportunity and accepting the fact that everyone gets out. Especially against some of the best bowlers in the world. You're going to face good balls that will get you out so the other balls you may as well try to cash in and, with your style, score runs and put the opposition under pressure, which is what I've tried to do."
"I feel some people have said 'he's had a bad tour, he's done'. My view is different. I'm 25 now, there's a huge opportunity for me to learn from that tour. Why can't I get better? It's happened, but it's not the complete journey"
Some of that "doing" has been away from the nets in the form of conversations with those that matter. Director of men's cricket Rob Key, Test coach Brendon McCullum and performance director Mo Bobat, who oversees the Lions programme, were consulted over the summer over where Hameed was in the pecking order and what could be done to move up. With that came clarity of worth and, ultimately, purpose. Hameed is venturing into 2023 with a clear idea of what is required, both to progress and change perceptions.
"I had a conversation with Rob Key in the summer about where I was and how things were looking for me and all that kind of stuff. He mentioned that for the England team what was important was this idea of soaking up pressure when necessary and then being able to apply pressure at different times. As soon as you sense a moment, being brave enough and strong enough to take your opportunities in the middle and the fact that you'll be backed for it.
"Maybe the challenge in some people's eyes was being able to show that side. I feel like I was able to show that side for Nottinghamshire through the course of the summer and in the game [for the Lions] just gone as well. In that sense, it's been nice for me for people to see that up close. I'm confident and I have trust that that game is also within me and that's why I'm very optimistic."
This isn't about reinvention for Hameed, but rather a regression of sorts. Much of what England have done successfully since the start of last summer is regain access to an expressive way of playing that is a hallmark of youth - one that gets understandably clouded by professionalism. And it is important to note that, before he made his Test debut in 2016, Hameed had plenty of white-ball cricket in his diet. Most notable was an Under-19 ODI series against South Africa in 2014 when, aged 17, he walked away as player of the series with 389 runs at 77.80. As he says so himself, much of what has come since was his attempts at trying to mimic how Test cricket was being played at the time.
"I guess it's an interesting one because you have your typical Test match opener which is what I was trying to play like. And there's also a side of me - which maybe a few more people have seen now - which takes me back to my junior days. Showing a side of me that maybe a lot of people haven't seen at that level. A side that enjoys hitting the ball, hitting these shots and letting the uniqueness in the way that I play come out.
"You forget how much you enjoy the game and everything becomes a lot more enjoyable [again]. Obviously with that, there has to be an acceptance that you're going to make mistakes but I feel like that starts from practice. You have to prepare in that way.
"I remember as a 16-year-old, I scored two hundreds in a day in two T20s playing for my school and that was me just having fun. It's amazing how by flipping that mindset you find yourself playing shots that you ordinarily wouldn't do. Shots find you because you've got that intent and over time, you understand that those are shots within you and when you have that mindset, they find you rather than you going looking for them.
"I had a lot of success in white-ball cricket growing up so I feel like a lot of those qualities are within me. It's just constantly making sure that I'm giving myself the best opportunity to bring them out because they are there."
As for when we might get a glimpse at this new iteration of Hameed, the next month in Asia will primarily be about reinforcing long-recognised strengths against spin - and could put him on track to be the spare opener for England's five-match series against India at the start of 2024, behind Zak Crawley and Ben Duckett.
Robustness against pace remains a question mark as far as an appearance in the 2023 Ashes later this summer is concerned, even if there were marked improvements noted in the UAE. The Lions camp in Dubai that preceded England's warm-up match gave Hameed the opportunity to showcase more assured footwork against the quicks, particularly in middle sessions against Anderson and Archer.
Has he moved on from his displays in Australia? The man himself, who turns 26 on Tuesday, thinks so.
"By the age of 24 I've had all that experience. The way I look at it, I've had one bad tour. At the height of the pressures and the exposure of the game, maybe that heightened it a little bit. But a lot of very, very good players have had one bad tour. I feel some people have said 'he's had a bad tour, he's done'. My view is different. I'm 25 now, there's a huge opportunity for me to learn from that tour. Why can't I get better? It's not the be all and end all. It's happened, but it's not the complete journey. I'm not 35, 36.
"Let's not hide away from the fact that it [Australia's] is the best bowling attack in the world in the toughest of conditions. When they come this summer in the Ashes of course it will be challenging again, but for sure that experience would help me better prepare. The environment too, I feel what's been created by Stokesy and McCullum feels like the right way to challenge them as well.
"The way to challenge them is taking them on, it feels, and that's been led by those two guys. It feels like any player in that team will be backed to that point."

Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo