Cheeky northern dreamboat Haseeb Hameed is one of All Out Cricket’s People of the Year, 2016.
One of cricket’s many avenues for pontification is how the effects of a player’s surroundings influence their respective games. Shivnarine Chanderpaul’s cockroach-like resistance to nuclear fast bowling was built up as a kid standing up – and often crumpling down – on wet concrete strips in the fishing village of Unity Town, as his father Khemraj wound up and let loose some of Guyana’s sharpest teenage quicks on one of his own.
So when Haseeb Hameed talks of toddlerhood next to the TV, with his old man, Ismail, giving him throwdowns, we can extrapolate from what we’ve seen in the open that the floor in the Hameed family front room is well-worn carpet. How else to explain such ingrained calm and craft on a debut tour of India – a wasteland that has stripped the nerve and technique of veterans.
That his tour was ended prematurely through injury should not sour an incredible 2016 for the 19-year-old. It started, in essence, with a Baby Boycs meme-worthy 99-ball innings of 18 – 12 in boundaries – against Nottinghamshire in Lancashire’s season opener at Old Trafford. When the return fixture came around at Trent Bridge in July, Hameed had broken out of his shell. With Lancashire staring at a first-innings deficit of 198, with Stuart Broad and Imran Tahir rampant, he batted more than six hours for 122, steering Lancs to safety. The improvement in the space of three months was enough for some members of the Notts squad to wonder aloud whether, if parachuted into Test cricket, he could stay afloat. There answer was, unequivocally, yes.
And so, it has come to pass. Two half-centuries in his first six innings – the second an unbeaten 59 in the third Test at Mohali, obtained with a badly broken finger on his left hand which required painkillers, a quick-fix technique and bloody-mindedness beyond his years.
While ultimately in vain, it did grab Virat Kohli’s attention – a player who Hameed has rushed home from training to watch bat. Even his teammates mock the obsession with India’s latest great. Now though, India’s captain was the one doing the fawning: “You can sense it as a captain, this guy is intelligent. He’s definitely going to be a star in all forms if he keeps persisting with his skill.”The true glory in Hameed’s rise to England’s youngest Test opener has been the representation of his community. Born and raised in England to a family hailing from Gujarat, where Hameed made his Test debut, his upbringing is equal parts British Asian and Northern Soul.
Whether in pursuit of academic or sporting prowess, first-generation Asian immigrants preach as they were preached to before setting off: the best way to gain acceptance is through excellence. Even though he is English-born, it is a message that would have been drummed into Hameed.
He was tested relentlessly. Promotion beyond his age-group started as young as eight when he was drafted to make up the numbers in an under 15 club game. Aged 14, he was sent to Mumbai for a training programme with a coach by the name of Vidyadhar Paradkar, who Hameed knew only as a friend of a friend of his father’s at the time. Two-hour sessions, twice-a-day for five weeks helped groove the basics so vivid today. At the end of 2015, he returned for a top-up. It may become an annual pilgrimage.
As many more boarded the Hameed bandwagon, requests for interviews snowballed. If Hameed wasn’t holding his bat, it was his phone. His enthusiasm never wavered, nor his sincerity. When asked if this newfound fame had changed his day-to-day life, he responded matter-of-factly: “Not really. Everyone knows me on my estate anyway.”
His life inside the four walls of his home or the three of his net has a richness of his own making. John Hutchinson, secretary of one of Hameed’s former clubs, Farnworth Social Circle Cricket Club, was struck by his open pride at hailing from one of Bolton’s most impoverished areas. Many others would have placed themselves five minutes down the street. That pride in home did not dwindle when Hameed switched from comprehensive to independent day school, as part of a cricket scholarship.
His ascension brought to the fore a modern northern axis: Lancastrian will tacking on to Root’s no-nonsense Yorkshireness and Stokes’ Cumbrian fire. Each unique in their strengths, far-reaching in their origins but bound by English batsmanship. At a time when the very fabric of national identity and unity is being tested, it provides a welcome snapshot of England.
Next year will offer new challenges. His method will be studied and, at times, worked out. Even last summer, for every story of Notts’ attack singing his praises or Graham Onions admitting to Hameed out in the middle that he couldn’t get him out, there was another attack boasting about exposing his susceptibility to the short ball or a sour veteran bemoaning a pro-Hameed media campaign.
Don’t be surprised if he greets this all with those wide eyes and full-lipped smile. The story of Haseeb Hameed is just beginning.
The full list of All Out Cricket’s People of the Year appears in issue 148 of our magazine , out on December 29