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Haseeb Hameed says 'cricket is fun again' after Nottinghamshire move

Opening batsman fell off England radar after three lean seasons for Lancashire

George Dobell
George Dobell
Haseeb Hameed has a point to prove after leaving Lancashire  •  Getty Images

Haseeb Hameed has a point to prove after leaving Lancashire  •  Getty Images

When England returned from India at the end of 2016, it looked for all the world as if they had discovered a new opening batsman to serve them for a decade and more.
Haseeb Hameed had only played three Tests in that Test series before a broken finger ended his involvement. But so assured had the 19-year-old seemed, so accomplished had he appeared, it looked as if they had discovered Alastair Cook's successor.
It was not to be. Returning to county cricket at the start of 2017, Hameed endured a horrid run of form. He had to wait until August to register a County Championship half-century and at one stage suffered four ducks in nine Championship innings. England couldn't pick him.
The hope was the year would prove to be a blip. But it wasn't. He averaged 9.70 in the 2018 Championship season and 28.41 in 2019. As much for his good as theirs, Lancashire released him ahead of 2020.
Nobody has yet been able to put their finger on what went wrong. There aren't glaring technical flaws; there's no lack of effort or obvious weakness. Some claim he wanted it too much. But they all do, really. Unless you're committed, you won't rise to the top. Those with simple answers tend to be those with simple minds.
But the story isn't over. Signing for Nottinghamshire ahead of the 2020 season - he wasn't the first and he won't be the last to be charmed by their head coach Peter Moores - Hameed enjoyed a steady if unspectacular return to form. Thursday gave us, perhaps, the next step in his rehabilitation, with the announcement that he had signed a contract extension securing his future at Nottinghamshire until at least the end of 2022.
Some caution is required here: Hameed averaged 38.85 in 2020. There were three half-centuries in seven innings. That's pretty good, but there were no centuries and he averaged about half what his opening partner, Ben Slater, did and about 20 fewer than another top-order player on that India tour, Ben Duckett. Talk of an England recall is premature.
Still, it is heartening to see him heading in the right direction, and to see him smiling as he talks about his cricket. He's still only 23. It's not unreasonable to think there could be brighter days ahead.
As he spoke on Thursday, it became clear how tough some aspects of the last few years have been and, as a consequence, what an achievement it is to return to a position where he is consistently scoring runs.
"I didn't give it too much thought," he replied when asked whether he considered leaving the game entirely. "Of course when you're going through a tough phase there are a lot of different voices in your head. You go through that bit of difficult period. You get a number of different thoughts of walking away from the game. I'd say it was very tough. To have had the success I've had, to then have what followed… it hit quite hard."
"Look at those who have achieved great things in life and in sports: these things don't happen without setbacks and real slumps"
Haseeb Hameed is confident that he can revive his England career
There were hints, too, of what may have helped turn things around. Instead of concentrating on run-scoring, for example, Moores has him focused upon enjoyment. And instead of conversations about what he needed to do, teammates discussed his successes of the past.
"The Notts players appreciated this was a new chapter for me," he said. "And they appreciated you don't want to dwell on what happened. It was starting afresh. So we've just talked about good memories: I was able to score a few runs against Notts in red and white-ball cricket at Trent Bridge. Having those sort of conversations does help. And they signed me as a player. You can take confidence from that.
"Cricket is fun again. That became quite a focus: enjoying batting again, enjoying being with my team mates and all those different things. This environment is brilliant for that. It's a lovely mix of younger lads who are extremely ambitious - Joe Clarke, Ben Duckett, Tom Moores and Zak Chappell - and extremely talented. To have that mix with the older guys who have been around the club for a long time is brilliant."
It's interesting to note, too, that Moores, once derided for his obsession with data, is now credited with uncluttering Hameed's mind.
"Peter is a big believer in there being an information overload now," Hameed said. "It's easy to look at other players and think you've got to do this or that. But the key message from Mooresy is: trust your game. Make refinements, yes, but not wholesale changes.
"For me right now, it's less about being so methodical and so watchful. It's more about letting my game flow and enjoying the art of batting. It's a case of not getting too caught up in almost survival. Yes, at the top of the order you do need a strong defence. But at the end of the day the game is about scoring runs and there is no point spending 100 balls at the crease to score 10 runs and then getting a good ball or a bad decision, and you're out."
Most of all, though, the whole episode speaks of a resilience within Hameed. There are no guarantees that he'll ever recapture the spirit of that 19-year-old with the broken finger in Mohali. But there's something admirable in the way he's fought through the bad times. You'd need a heart of stone not to wish him well.
"I still look at myself as quite a young man within the game," he said. "I look at it as something that can propel me to achieve greater things.
"One thing I've prided myself on from a young age is my best years were after my worst years. As a 15-year-old I won the player of year trophy at Lancashire and three awards at the Bunbury festival and then selection in the England development programme came after a year, when 14, I had the worst year of junior career.
"Then I look at not being selected for the U-19 World Cup and, a year later, going to Bangladesh in the senior team. That stuck with me. That tells me I've something deep down that won't let me stop. Of course you have doubts. But that's when you need something within you, deep down, to stop you giving in and try one more time. That mental resilience has been quite good for me.
"Look at those who have achieved great things in life and in sports: these things don't happen without setbacks and real slumps. The ones that achieve more are the ones who have had the biggest slumps and bigger downfalls. To say those four years have been easy wouldn't be true. It was very difficult.
"But I still want to push. I'm still clear what I want to achieve and I still have the confidence I will get there."

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo