Composed Hameed signals England's long search may be over
Haseeb Hameed's impressive Test debut has fired England's optimism that this time they have found an opener to be reckoned with
They have kissed some frogs along the way, but it looks as if England may have found their prince.
It wasn't just Haseeb Hameed's runs that impressed. And it wasn't just the uncomplicated technique. It was, most of all, the composure of a 19-year-old dealing with the pressure of playing his first Test against the No. 1 rated side in their own country. If he had any nerves, he didn't show them.
The basic facts are these: Hameed has become the first England opener to make a half-century on debut since Alastair Cook in 2006. He has become the third youngest man (after Jack Crawford and Denis Compton) to make a half-century in Test cricket for England (and the second youngest opener, after Crawford) and, if he makes 38 more runs on the final day, he will be the first England opener to make a century on debut since Cook and the youngest England Test centurion of all time.
While the scorecard hardly suggests it, his runs were made under some pressure. With England starting their second innings just 49 runs ahead of India and the pitch starting to show signs of modest deterioration, any early wickets could have resulted in a serious case of jitters in the England dressing room. Offering a little more turn and a little more uneven bounce, this is no longer the genial-natured pitch on which five men have recorded centuries this match. These were not soft runs.
So while Cook (who is said by the England camp to be in robust good health despite a couple of spells off the field, an uncharacteristic drop at slip and another scratchy display with the bat) prodded and poked as if batting on the most treacherous of surfaces, Hameed was able to drive boundaries through the covers off front and back foot, late cut anything even slightly short and, when Ravi Jadeja gave the ball just a little flight, skip down the pitch and drive him over long-off for six.
His footwork was crisp and unhurried. His judgment over which balls to leave and which he could nudge off his legs was astute. He already uses the crease against the spinners better than all but one member of the England team. He could not be bullied by the seamers or befuddled by the spinners. This has been England's most assured debut since Joe Root.
But for a twist of fate, Hameed could have ended up playing for India. His father, Ismail, who looked understandably emotional in the stands as his son reached his half-century with a delicious late cut for four off the world's No.1 rated Test bowler, tells a tale of the invitations extended their way after one of Haseeb's trips back to the land of his parents to work on his game on turning tracks.
Would he be interested in playing club cricket in Mumbai? Might he like to think of the Mumbai side in the Ranji Trophy as his target? Might he think of joining his heroes, Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli, as an Indian player?
It was never going to happen. By then, Haseeb was impressing in the Lancashire age-group teams. Their Academy Director, John Stanworth, a man not prone to hyperbole, told All Out Cricket that Hameed was "probably as good a player as we've had for a generation" two years before he graduated to the Championship side, and made comparisons with Mike Atherton and John Crawley. He captained England U-17 and U-19 and although there have been setbacks - he was especially stung to be left out of the England team for the U-19 World Cup - he has long carried great expectations.
The records followed. He became the youngest Lancashire player to make 1,000 runs in a Championship season, the first Lancashire player to make centuries in both innings of a Roses match (Tim Bresnan told him he had played "a seriously special knock" after the second innings century) and, despite it all, possessed a demeanour busting with a desire to learn but graced by humility. Even if Haseeb Hameed was hopeless at cricket, his parents would have reason to be immensely proud of him.
His first memories are of cricket: batting with a mini bat and punching his father's friendly lobs in the living-room of their Bolton home. Later Ismail resolved to teach his son the defensive technique of Geoff Boycott which, whatever the changes in the modern game, remains a decent foundation. He hasn't played a first team game of white ball cricket for Lancashire yet, but there's no reason why he cannot make a success of that. He's not a blocker with a limited game; he's a class act with an array of elegant strokes and the sense to play within himself. He looks as if he was born to bat.
There are still questions to answer, of course. Most of all, there was talk on the county circuit of the day he was worked over by a sharp Surrey attack containing Stuart Meaker and Mark Footitt. You can be quite sure that Australia, in particular, will explore any potential vulnerability against the short ball.
The signs in this match are promising, though. While others have paid the price for taking their eye off the ball in this game and taken short balls on the head or upper body, Hameed reacted to the first ball of his Test career - a well-directed short-ball from Mohammed Shami - with a composure you suspect is going to become mightily familiar. He kept his eye on the ball and dropped his hands expertly. There haven't been any obvious chinks in the armour.
Other England openers have enjoyed good days, of course, only to be discarded a short while later. Sam Robson and Adam Lyth both made centuries in their second Tests and Nick Compton made two in New Zealand. But have any of them - and Hameed is Cook's 10th opening partner since the retirement of Andrew Strauss in 2012 - looked this assured and unflappable? Have any of them looked to have such a well-rounded game?
Ben Duckett made a half-century as opener in the previous match, but it always seemed a little frenetic and little as if it was a punt that was coming off. Hameed offered something approaching certainty. His journey is just beginning and there will, no doubt, be some stony terrain on the way. But if you could buy shares in people, you would put your shirt on Haseeb Hameed.
Hameed's runs have helped put England in an almost impregnable position. While there will be talk of a declaration sometime in mid-afternoon - you cannot give a side containing the best limited-overs chaser in history a hint of a chance in a run-chase - there might also be a thought to keep India in the field for another full day. With only three days between Tests, those extra overs could be telling in Visakhapatnam. Besides, any psychological edge India thought they had before this game could be further eroded. It was a tactic that served England well in Brisbane in 2010.
The counter argument suggests that opportunities to win may be few and far between in this series and that England, with a slim chance, should do all they can to take it. In the end, it may depend on how much the pitch has deteriorated by lunch. It is breaking up, certainly, but whether it is doing it fast enough to force a result is doubtful.
Hameed need not worry about that. He just needs to bat. And, for the first time in several years, England may well not need to worry about finding a new opening partner for Cook. It's premature to reach conclusions, of course, but it really does seem as if the search is over.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo