Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98
Any politician announcing a pledge to get Haseeb Hameed back into England's Test side would receive a 10-point polling bounce overnight, such is his popularity. When he made his debut in India in late 2016, it was hailed as a triumph for modern Britain: the son of a driving instructor who had emigrated from Gujarat and settled in Bolton, opening the batting with Alastair Cook, whose knighthood was imminent. Virat Kohli said it was "a pleasure watching him play" and called him a "great kid" - after all, he was still only 19.
But the years since have been a struggle. He lost his England place for the 2017 home summer, failing to make a County Championship hundred and averaging 28.50, and a return of 165 runs in 17 innings the following summer prompted Paul Allott, his director of cricket, to declare: "Not only is he a million miles away from England, he's hanging on by his fingertips at Lancashire."
Hameed-mania fleetingly returned in 2019, when he strummed 117 in his first Championship innings of the summer on the back of a double-hundred in a warm-up fixture, but his next-highest score of the season would be 55. By the end of the year, the first related Google search next to his name wondered: "What happened to Haseeb Hameed?"
The slump necessitated a change of scenery, and he signed a two-year deal with Nottinghamshire at the end of 2019, with his contract since extended to the end of 2022. The disruption of the pandemic has limited him to 13 first-class innings for the club, but he is averaging 48.25 for them, with three fifties in the Bob Willis Trophy backed up by twin hundreds - and a Championship record for balls faced in a match - against Worcestershire last week. If the runs keep flowing, talk of an England return will not be far away.
"I've no real worries about that," Peter Moores, his head coach, told ESPNcricinfo. "I think he has his feet firmly on the ground. He's been through that journey and I think he's learned a lesson that you can't get ahead of yourself in sport and have to play what's in front of you. I'm pretty confident he will do that, get stuck in, and really build on a fantastic performance. There's such a long run of games back-to-back that if you're in good form, there's a real opportunity to cash in."
The context of his hundreds made them particularly notable, saving a draw for Notts following a collapse. He spent all but 4.2 overs of the game's final seven sessions batting, after Worcestershire enforced the follow-on, taking the best part of 14 hours to make 111 and 114 not out. His partnership with Ben Slater is blossoming, with stands of 115 and 236 (unbroken) in the match building on the foundations laid last season.
Technically, there have been minor tweaks, primarily designed to strip his game back to the basics. There were suggestions during his time at Lancashire that Hameed's response to a low score would be to try to reinvent his game overnight; instead, Moores has focused on reminding him what earned him his Test spot in the first place, particularly his patience outside off stump. He has been encouraged to think differently about batting too, focusing on scoring runs rather than avoiding losing his wicket.
"Has played beautifully last week," Moores said. "He's really grown his game, I think. He got to a place where he was surviving as a player: trying not to get out and block the new ball, but he's now someone who is a lovely player to watch with a lovely flow to him. You couldn't score at a [fast] rate on that pitch, so he played each ball on merit and showed what made him a good player as a young man when he got that England opportunity; hopefully he's reconnected to that side of his game but now with the new maturity he has found over the last couple of years."
Moores is better placed than most to judge, having watched Hameed as a teenager in the Lancashire academy during his time at the club. "Like a lot of young players, they go through the dip," he said. "They start very well, but then certain things happen to them, expectation gets increased, sometimes they try to move their game in the wrong places, and slowly but surely they start to find their true games. Has is finding that now. The version you're starting to see is the one that will be really effective, not just in four-day cricket but in one-day cricket too."
There is a sense that Notts are backing Hameed publicly in a way that Lancashire rarely did. They successfully kept him out of the spotlight in pre-season, declining interview requests for him, though did give him the responsibility of the vice-captaincy. "He's got a good tactical brain and there's nobody who wouldn't get on with him," Moores said. He will lead the side in the Royal London Cup, with a swathe of first-team players away on Hundred duty, and while he is yet to make a professional T20 appearance, his ability against spin has translated into a solid List A record.
It is too early to predict with any certainty whether Hameed's recent form is proof that he is back to his best or another false dawn in a career that has fluctuated as wildly as a risky cryptocurrency stock. But the signs are positive, and at 24, he still has plenty of time to fulfil even the weightiest expectations.