There had never been a king pair in a Lord’s Test. You wonder whether Haseeb Hameed thought of this as he heard the stomach-churning splintering of stumps behind him. This was Greek tragedy being played out on front of our eyes.
So rare is the king pair that there have only been 22 in the history of Test cricket. Many an individual has found themselves halfway there, but rarely is the unwanted feat realised.
Haseeb Hameed had a king pair lingering over him for four days and three nights. For seventy hours between Friday and Monday, he floated in cricketing purgatory. Quack, quack, quack round in his head like some malfunctioning fairground ride. The harder you try to keep thought out, the more persistent it becomes. Not just fleeting back-of-the-head thoughts these ones, real front and centre all-consuming stuff.
Just how can you possibly function as a human, let alone a professional athlete, under such duress? With all those thoughts running around in his head, Hameed had to sit and watch Joe Root tally up run after run after run, Jonny Bairstow dig in and England manage a narrow first innings lead. All the while contemplating a personal contribution of nil.
He was then expected to spend another day fully concentrated on limiting India’s riposte. For the majority of time you could switch off. Generally in the field you are not required. Except you can’t ever really switch off. When that catch, run-out chance or run- saving opportunity comes, you better be alive.
Surely, though, his mind wandered. Surely he thought of where he had been, where he had gone and where he was now. Any human would.
Act One in the career of Hameed is well versed. He arrived on the international scene with a maturity unashamedly in contrast to his cheeky, boyish looks. Shortly cropped hair complete with bold Boltonian accent. The lad was quickly christened the future by Virat Kohli. English fans and media were head over heels.
But, as Pulp once sang, something changed. The descent was as sharp as the arrival. The cause of the fall remains a mystery; the extent of it anything but. An unexplainable drop to a single figure average eventually resulted in a drop to 2nd XI county cricket. The boy wonder scrapping it out with the rest of them for mere cricketing survival.
A move became inevitable. Trent Bridge was the prime spot for revival. And so it has been. Not slamming the door down but slowly and expertly picking the lock. Hameed has earned his return in the grand manner, with weighty red ball runs. Not a few big boisterous headline-making innings, but consistent top order runs.
“Cricket is fun again,” is what he told George Dobell after his first season at Nottinghamshire. This is where we, as fans or media, perhaps fall short. For all the introspection and analysis at what caused the fall, all Hameed really desired was the game to be fun again. And cricket is a game. For those who play it and watch it, the modus operandi should be fun. Of course, it is more fun when you are winning, but even when you are not, a certain perspective needs to be maintained.
Which brings us back round to Lord’s and Hameed’s days of thought. You can’t imagine those days were filled with much fun. The long days pondering in the changing room or patrolling the outfield. There was perhaps the odd distraction of a stint under the lid at short leg or silly point to keep him in the battle, but largely solitary thought throughout. What a toll it must take.
Paul Parker won a solitary cap for England in the 1981 Ashes. He spoke recently on One Test Wonders podcast of the mental degradation caused by a first innings duck. With no possibility of realeasing the nerves, the potential pressure of recording “a pair” ate him up between innings. “By the time I arrived at the crease for my second innings I was mentally exhausted”.
Parker spoke of a feeling of “exhilaration” as a streaky inside edge brought runs.
Forget the king pair, even the possibility of a pair will turn you inside out. As Rory Burns and Dom Sibley shuffled out to meet their fate, we glimpse a straight-faced Hameed. His chair slightly removed from balcony doors, as if the safety of the changing room comforts him. Focused? Anxious? Scared?
Only he, if anyone, will truly know. The shortly cropped boyish hair now dangles towards his shoulders, complete with a bushy beard to match. He has the look of someone who disappears for a while and returns to tell you he has “seen things”. No longer a boy. The end is in sight. No more waiting, no more wondering, no more purgatory.
He doesn’t need to wait long. Of course he doesn’t, this is England. Siraj – the bringing of Hameed’s first innings doom – sizzles one past his outside edge first ball, but it’s survived. Exhilaration. The mind can finally breathe.
Maybe this could still be fun?
To even return to the crease must take a strength of courage which clearly marks these individuals as elite. Hameed’s innings doesn’t move beyond single digits but the worst case scenario has at least been avoided. He can move on.
Act Two for Haseeb Hameed can begin. Is there a player for whom success is desired more than him? Five years ago, England thought they had a decade long incumbent. There is a chance they still do. More importantly for Hameed, the follow-up act must contain one thing above all others: fun.