There have been many column inches devoted to Lancashire opener Haseeb Hameed this season and, rest assured, there will be many more in the years to come. England Head Coach Trevor Bayliss has confirmed that he is in the mix to tour Bangladesh and India this summer – which would mark an outstanding first full season for the 19-year-old batsman.
On the face of it, the fact that England are looking should come as no surprise. The simple rule of cricket is that numbers on the board get you noticed. As the third-highest runs-scorer in Division One this season, with 1,129 runs to his name with two games remaining, Hameed has made his case with some style.
His success is no shock to those in and around the Old Trafford setup. Word of this extreme talent emerging through the ranks has been spreading for a couple of years now.
But Hameed’s case for England selection is an interesting discussion for two reasons. Firstly, his age and lack of experience with just 18 First Class matches under his belt, and secondly his style as a batsman.
With regards to the first charge, Bayliss has been very clear that he would have no issue selecting Hameed despite his tender years. “If a player’s good enough, he’s old enough,” the Australian told the BBC.
And he’s entirely right in that assertion. Some of the outpouring against Hameed’s selection based purely on his age is ludicrous. Anyone who has had the privilege to watch him bat this season will see a cricketer with maturity beyond his years – a man who knows and understands his game as much as a player twice his age.
In the Bond film Skyfall, when 007 meets his fresh-faced new Quartermaster, he questions his ability based on his young age. Ben Wishaw’s ‘Q’ responds: ‘Age is no guarantee of efficiency’.
And that point applies to Hameed. England have had eight opening partners for Alastair Cook since Andrew Strauss retired in 2012, none of whom have nailed down the role no matter their age or experience. Michael Carberry was 32 when he opened in Australia, but he didn’t make the grade, so having age and experience on your side isn’t a sure-fire way to success.
If selected against Bangladesh, Hameed would be the fifth-youngest player ever to represent England in Test cricket and the youngest since Ben Hollioake in 1997. Should that count against his selection? Not at all.
After all, India selected Sachin Tendulkar aged 16, and he did alright!
In that wonderfully-acted scene from the 25th film in the Bond franchise, 007 retorts: ‘and youth is no guarantee of innovation’.
Which brings us on to the second discussion around Hameed’s selection. You see, Hameed isn’t innovative – you could say just the opposite.
While Test and First Class cricket has moved increasingly in recent years to the inclusion of fast-scorers, ball-strikers and aggressive batsman, Hameed is something of a throwback to a bygone era.
His game is built first and foremost around defence. A Division One strike rate of just 39.50 this season backs that up. It’s the lowest rate of any of the top 29 runs scorers in the division.
Hameed is solid as a rock. The Lancashire-born batsman’s resolve has seen nicknames flying around such as the ‘Bolton Block’ or the ‘Farnworth Fence’. Comparisons are inevitable in sport and the obvious one with Hameed is that of India legend Rahul Dravid. The similarities in their game and their approach are there for all to see.
But it isn’t blocking for the sake of blocking. An hour or two spent watching Hameed is enough to realise it’s an intelligent gameplan. His forward-defence is a well-educated masterpiece – you fancy it might speak a couple of languages, or could analyse the stock market.
And there is more to his game than simply occupying the crease. In the Roses clash last month, the class of Hameed was there for all to see. A century in both innings came in two different styles. The first was a measured, controlled knock of 114 from 209 balls, while the second was an unbeaten 100 from just 124 balls as he tried to push Lancashire on for a victory charge.
That ability to change his game and adapt to the situation displays a maturity beyond his years.
But the fact that England are looking at a player with such a low strike rate, after a period where they have searched for a dasher at the top of the order, says something rather interesting about the evolution of Test cricket.
Are they ready to abandon their search for our own David Warner-style opener? Perhaps they’ve had enough of the likes of Adam Lyth and Alex Hales wafting aimlessly outside off stump and are ready to return to old-fashioned Test match opener techniques.
Hameed’s Lancashire teammate and former South African Test star Alviro Petersen thinks that would be no bad thing.
“You get your David Warners who just want to hit the ball and they’re successful, but Test cricket might as well go full circle where you get the guys who can occupy the crease more,” Petersen said earlier in the season.
“Hameed is an old-school cricketer. Nowadays guys just rock up wanting to play T20 cricket and his gameplan is based around defence which is what you need in First Class cricket especially as an opener.”
One thing we know for sure is that England are watching Lancashire’s young star. His age and old-fashioned style make him a fascinating selection discussion.
But talent should always be prioritised over age, and Bayliss is entirely right to believe that if he’s good enough, he’s old enough.
And if this season has proved one thing, it’s that Hameed is certainly good enough.