The Squire and Third Man first saw the batting of Haseeb Hameed, known as Has, in the Old Trafford Indoor School when he joined a small squad in the Level III ECB Development Programme, aged 11 or 12.
But they had heard of him a couple of years before as a precocious talent who had been selected for the Lancashire Under 11 side while still two or three years below that age.
The reports from the Under 11s were that, accommodating his size, he was already a great manager of the ball, making its energy work for him. He was flexible of wrist. He possessed patience and great powers of concentration. He valued his wicket highly – and his valuation of it was as precise as his shot making. He was regularly scoring 50s and batting very long innings. In short no-one could get him out. Not much has changed, it seems.
There were long battles in the spin net on that Lancashire/ECB programme. You could see that the young man had respect for those bowling against him, not a subservient respect, nor an assertive arrogance, but the kind of respect that underpins sound judgement of shot selection. His defense was secure. There were few bad balls on offer and so his ‘virtual’ runs came from deflections and glides. Placement trumped power.
His parents brought him each evening and his father watched carefully from a distance. Was it from his father that he had learnt those delightful skills? Because this was mature batting at an early age – a miniture masterpiece – and, importantly for what comes below, well before any system had got at him.
Neither the Squire nor Third Man have seen him bat since those days but the results have been plain to read and the tributes from opposing First Class captains and their veteran coaches confirm that this batsman is special and steadfastly realising his potential.
The magnificent feat of a hundred in each innings of the just completed Roses Match has been met with a call from Michael Vaughan that he should be included in the full England touring party this winter as the ‘spare opener’.
This news coincides with a severe critique of England’s recent selection policies from James Morgan at The Full Toss and follow England’s batting woes in the tied Test series against Pakistan.
Test cricket is now one specialised form amongst a number of different forms of the game, each of which has its own Darwinian adaptive forces selecting for differing skill-sets.
Test match batting with its expanses of time requires the highest level of technical excellence. The analysis and bowling at Test match level is now sufficient to expose any weakness in a batsman.
A career in cricket is a process of the winning and giving of development opportunities by the selectors. Experience counts, all benefit from being given opportunities, but the opportunity of gaining experience is better given to some than to others.
‘Selectors’ might not be the right word to describe Whitaker et al in the days of the strong Coach/Captain model (which includes a very strong Technical Director of Elite Coaching [TDEC] overseeing a pool of players deeply embedded into the England set-up and through whom all selectees pass). Where real power over these decisions lies is as obscure and as unwritten as the British constitution. The suspicion remains from the late Flower era that cultural fit into the system is given as much, if not more, weight than technical proficiency. How would our own bowlers bowl against some of our recent debutants and are they ever asked before decisions are made?
In recent times, batsmen with glaring weaknesses have benefited from development opportunities against weak opposition operating in alien conditions. Those opportunities have too often been wasted on players whose deficiencies have been quickly exposed when strong opposition arrived.
It would be natural for the coaching, fitness and psychological support staff to believe they can ‘fix’ such inadequacies on the job – it’s why they are paid. But here is further cause for concern. Ask the old pros associated with coaching talent in the counties and you will hear them talk of their dread that their player is being scooped up into the England system. Sure, this can be a human reaction to someone losing control, but too many have seen young cricketers who have been growing in ability in their nurseries ‘crash’ and burn after time with the England set up.
The system is clearly failing. After a number of series, including an odd and less than reliable one at home against the Australians, England is left with gaps, real or imagined, in their batting line up and no more development opportunities before their winter series. For the medium to long term this system must be fixed. It is broken.
But, back to Haseeb Hameed and the question as to whether right now this precious talent should tour with England this winter.
The answer should be Yes, but … not if he is to be the ‘spare opener’ from the start. Imagine: first warm up match – not selected! And on and on bringing on the drinks, until, out of practice in the middle, he receives his call up to meet a crisis. No, the young batsman’s technique is ideal for sub-continental conditions. If he is to go and to survive the process, his and England’s best chance is for him to open the batting from day one.
But he is where he is because he has been left to develop and to soak up experience on the basis of ‘I’ll ask if I need something’. There should be no efforts to tinker with technique or with his mind!
Here’s an ideal chance to see what happens when coaches leave well alone and Test selection pays due regard to technique.
- Thanks to the Manchester Evening News for a shot taken in those same in door nets – a few years later.