Graham Thorpe was delighted, but not hugely surprised, by Haseeb Hameed’s memorable Test debut in Rajkot.
And the ECB's lead batting coach has urged the Lancashire youngster to soak up all he can during his opening partnerships in India from the masterclass in facing spin available from Alastair Cook at the other end.
After a promising but insufficiently substantial first Test stand together of 47 in 15 overs, ended when Cook was pinned lbw by Ravi Jadeja, the master and apprentice walked to the middle under considerable pressure second time around on Saturday morning, UK time.
England may have earned a first-innings lead of 49, but the pundits in the BBC radio commentary box were still warning that an India win was the second most likely result after a draw.
Virat Kohli called on Jadeja to share the new ball with Mohammed Shami, and to anyone listening to the commentary of the left-armer’s first couple of overs on a filthy November morning, batting sounded a thoroughly precarious business.
Yet an hour or so later, Geoffrey Boycott was able to reassure listeners that Hameed might as well be batting with Timperley rhubarb, as he reached a maiden Test 50 from only 94 balls.
By the close of play they had put on 114, and England supporters were dreaming of victory rather than fearing defeat. By the time they were separated on Sunday, Hameed had made 82 in a stand of 180 – while Cook went on to 130, his 30th Test century, which broke a couple of significant records for a visiting batsman as his fifth in India and ninth in Asia.
“Those records say it all,” reflected Thorpe, a man well-qualified to comment on the challenges of batting in Asia as he averaged more than 48 in 20 Test innings there and played a key role in series wins in Pakistan and Sri Lanka in 2000-01.
“To have scored nine centuries in Asia is pretty unbelievable to be honest. It shows he’s been around for a while, and that is a big thing in itself. A lot of it comes down to experience – he’s built up that knowhow since he made his debut in Nagpur in 2006.
“I’d say the starting point has to be trusting your defence. You’re going to have men crowded around the bat, but you’ve not got to let that worry you.
“Picking length quickly is another key factor. That’s crucial in not getting bogged down – being able to rotate the strike by pushing safe singles, but also making the most of anything loose. Knowing your areas – that could be a sweep or a slog sweep for Cooky, or his cut shot – and hitting that bad ball for four rather than one.
“That’s the exciting thing for me about Hameed, he’s strong in all those areas. I’ve seen him coming through the system with the Under-19s but the progress he’s made in the last year has been amazing really.
“When we spoke to a number of the better spinners in county cricket, they said he stood out with the way he plays spin. Like Cooky, he’s comfortable when there’s men round the bat. He trusts his defence. But he also picks length quickly, he gets to the pitch of the ball or he gets away from the ball, and he’s very effective off the back foot.”
Thorpe, who will head for Dubai this week as a member of Andy Flower’s Lions coaching staff, did add a couple of caveats. “There was a bit of grass on that pitch in Rajkot, which meant a bit of pace and bounce. That can help the bowlers but it does also help the batsmen. It will be a different challenge again when there isn’t any bounce – we saw that a bit in Bangladesh.
“But it’s been a great start to the series, for Cooky, Hass and the team as a whole. It was wonderful to watch.”