It’s probably fair to say that most county batsmen view the pre-season MCCU games as a chance to fill their boots prior to the start of the County Championship programme. But it’s equally reasonable to suggest that no batsman was more relieved to do so this season than Lancashire’s Haseeb Hameed.
Hameed’s 218 against Loughborough MCCU last Friday and Saturday was his highest score for Lancashire’s first team. He faced 336 balls and batted for 387 minutes, hitting 32 fours and two sixes in an innings which was ideal preparation for Lancashire’s Division Two opener against Middlesex at Lord’s.
It little mattered the match was not first-class. Hameed had shown the Lancashire coaches he still has the ability and temperament to bat long after a winter spent in India and New Zealand working on his game and getting match practice.
And the innings may have been as well-timed as some of its boundaries. Asked for his judgment on Hameed by Wisden, Paul Allott, director of cricket at Emirates Old Trafford, declared recently that: “Not only is he a million miles away from England, he’s hanging on by his fingertips at Lancashire.” Ouch.
Allott’s judgment might be seen as unnecessarily brutal, especially when applied to a 22-year-old cricketer viewed only two years ago as one of England’s brightest cricketing prospects. But it followed a season in which Hameed had scored 165 Championship runs at an average of 9.7.
The only consolation for Lancashire supporters was that few players are more dedicated than the Boltonian and his winter abroad was part of his search for the form which helped him score over 1,000 runs in 2016.
“The main purpose of those trips was to be outside hitting as many balls as possible, and to experience different cultures and conditions,” said Hameed, before his innings at Loughborough. “I’m still young, so any experience I can get overseas is brilliant. I’d been to India a couple of times before and knew what to expect, but New Zealand was a new place for me.”
Hameed also admitted that it was useful to get away from Old Trafford for a while but was reassured by the advice from trusted coaches and new mentors that his game was not in need of a complete overhaul.
“As a young player, you look for answers,” he said. “But the common theme I got was to just to back my game. Everyone felt it was in a good place, which was nice to hear. And that came from people who I’d not met before. For them to say that was refreshing.
“Having said that, there are always minute changes you can make to help your game. But that’s not always technical. It can be tactical, like game awareness, being happy to move across the crease or changing the angles.”
Whatever their own loyalties, there will probably be few cricket lovers who do not have some sympathy for Hameed. His three Test appearances in India garnered immense praise, some of it from tough judges with plenty of Test appearances on their CV.
“People can be very up and down,” he said. “They’ll praise you lavishly when you’re doing well and they’ll criticise you when you’re not. I try to take that in my stride and keep a balance to it. It’s nice to hear people say things like that, but I don’t let it affect me too much.
“I scored runs when I was nine and 10 in Bolton cricket, and that brought praise with it locally. Even when I experienced that from a young age, I never tried to let that get to me.”
But along with a measure of resilience, Hameed also possesses a degree of discernment. So when two former England skippers offer useful observations or advice he is ready to pick up on their suggestions.
“One of Mike Atherton’s quotes I like is, ‘you’re never as good as people say, and you’re never as a bad as people say when you’re not doing well’,” he said.
“And when you’re so eager to improve, you can sometimes start working on your weaknesses too much. Alastair Cook, in ‘masterclass’ with us for England U19s, said one of his things was to make his strength a super strength and to make his weakness a strength.
“That makes sense because if you don’t practise your strengths day-by-day, they can falter. I guess it’s about making sure you’re working on both strengths and weaknesses and balancing that. You need a lucky break at times, and you could say I didn’t have that last year. Let’s hope this year I can maybe get that bit of good fortune on my side.”
PAUL EDWARDS / Photo: Getty Images