For most of cricket and the wider sporting public, Haseeb Hameed has emerged in the England Test team as an overnight success – hardly surprising as the country’s first ever teenage opening batsman.
But for those on the inside at Lancashire and England’s International Pathway, Hameed’s talent and progress has been prompting excited chatter for almost a decade.
Here John Stanworth, who signed him to the Lancashire Academy, and Mo Bobat, England’s player identification lead, reflect on the Bolton youngster’s route to international cricket – whether “facing rockets” from Tymal Mills as a 16-year-old in South Africa, or digging in for a day to save a game for England’s Under-17s in Sri Lanka.
“I was first made aware of Hass when he was 10,” says Stanworth, who was recently appointed head coach of the England Senior Women’s Academy. “That’s unusual, but he’d had a phenomenal year in the Lancashire Under-11s. I saw a talented player, but I’m always wary of jumping to conclusions with lads when they’re still at junior school. Then we had an unusual situation of Worcestershire making an approach to give him a sporting scholarship, and that led to him staying in our system on a scholarship at Bolton School. It was a bit of a punt, based on the small amount of him I’d seen - but also on his record.
“He carried on scoring prolifically for the next few years, but then he encountered the first bump on the road when he was left out of the North of England team, I think at Under-14s. That was the first time I saw the steel that’s beneath his smile – because what it produced was a lad who was driven to prove people wrong."
The following year, Hameed first registered with the national scouts, then working on the England Development Programme.
“Players usually come on to our radar at Under-15 level, so we’d been aware of him from that March, but it was the Bunbury Festival at Repton School later in 2012 where a lot of us first got to see him,” explained Bobat. “And certainly he stood out – even in a strong North team.
“He was selected on to the EDP that winter, and the following February he was in a group of players who went out to Potchefstroom in South Africa – an age group which also included lads like Tom Moores and Saqib Mahmood, who have also gone on to play England Under-19s or Lions cricket, as well as taking their first steps in the county game.
“We had a three-week training camp with some development matches, but the great thing was the lads from the Pace Programme were out there at the same time. I remember watching Hass as a 16-year-old facing Tom Helm, David Willey and Tymal Mills rocking up trying to take his head off. Again, he coped - he seemed to relish it.
“The following summer was his Under-17 year and he was one of the leading runscorers for the North in the Super-4s at Loughborough, and for our England Under-17s against Sri Lanka. But that year he also went up to make his Under-19s debut against Bangladesh.”
In a team dominated by Yorkshiremen including Matt Fisher and Will Rhodes, Hameed made 67 in the second game at Sleaford in Lincolnshire, sharing a fourth-wicket stand of 86 with a Northamptonshire youngster called Ben Duckett – against a Bangladesh side including Mehedi Hasan Miraz, the offspinner who made such an impact in his first senior series against England.
At this point, Hameed had yet to play for Lancashire’s second team. “But at the end of that 2013 season, we threw him into our side for a Second Eleven Championship final against Middlesex at Radlett,” Stanworth continued.
“It was in at the deep end in a very strong second team game – we had lads like Steven Croft playing, and Nick Gubbins was playing for them. But we wanted to see how he did in a pressure game. As it happened it was pretty much a washout, but I remember that game as the time I fully realised the positive influence of Haseeb’s dad, Ismail. It’s unusual to embrace a father's coaching influence as we did. But Ismail is so important to Hass in terms of his attitude, the amount he practises but also the way he practises – he asks challenging questions, in a good way.
“After that we pretty much made the indoor school at Old Trafford available to both of them whenever they wanted. Our staff became very familiar with them – I’d say they were there five nights a week.”
After that rain-ruined second team debut, Hameed moved on to his second winter on the EDP – this time ending with a tour of Sri Lanka.
“I think that’s one of my most enduring memories of Hass,” added Bobat. “We were there in April which is the hottest time of the year, and the Sri Lankans hosted us well – we played at the Premadasa. In our three-day game they got a big score, then we got skittled, which left us needing to bat four sessions or more to save the game.
“Under immense pressure, and in that heat, Hass made 66 off 189 balls to help save the game for us. I’ve still got a picture of him on his knees at a drinks break whilst batting with Mosun Hussain, a Yorkshire lad. My mind went back to that when I saw him batting with Cooky trying to save the second Test in India. Obviously the pressure goes up at that level, but he did have some experience of exactly that sort of situation on the sub-continent. That’s a really good example of what we try to do on the International Pathway.”
All this, and Hameed was still only 17. In the summer of 2014, he dominated a home one-day series for England Under-19s against their South African counterparts, with scores of 97, 97, 125, 32 and 38 – despite being the junior player in an England team including two members of this winter’s Lions programme, Joe Clarke and Tom Alsop. And he was still only halfway through his A-level studies at Bolton School.
That meant revising between matches on an Under-19s tour of Australia in the spring of 2015. It didn’t go well for Hameed in the one-day series, but he made amends in a four-day match at the WACA, where after a first-innings duck, he anchored a successful second-innings salvage operation with an unbeaten 91 from 256 balls.
“Another great experience for him,” Bobat recalls. “And he also had the chance to chat to Justin Langer when we were in Perth – just as when we went to Sri Lanka the following winter for a Tri-Series, he got to meet Rahul Dravid, who had just been appointed coach of the India Under-19s. Hass idolised him, so that meant a lot - some of our lads called him The Wall after his innings at the WACA.
“I smiled when I read a quote from Alastair Cook about the pair having met in the nets at the Performance Centre in Loughborough as well. That was something else we were able to arrange for the Under-19s lads on the Pathway, as well as the chance to work with coaches like Andy Flower and Mark Ramprakash.”
After returning from Perth, Hameed still had one more summer of Under-19 cricket to play, and extended his leadership experience by captaining England in a return Ashes battle against Australia in Durham. Soon after that, he was making his first-class debut for Lancashire – and on the fast-track to a senior England debut.
“It’s been teamwork all the way through,” Bobat concludes. “Obviously from Hass with his talent and all the effort he’s put in. The support he’s received from his family, especially his dad Ismail and his brother Saf, who deserve a lot of the credit for the unusually mature and focused attitude he’s always had to practice.
“I’m sure Haseeb and his father would also point to the role played by Lancashire, from John Stanworth in the early days and more recently Ashley Giles and Mark Chilton, who played a big part in turning the disappointment he felt when he was left out of our Under-19 World Cup squad into a positive, by getting Hass to focus even more on his super-strength against the red ball.”
“It was another example of that steeliness he’d shown when he was left out as a 14-year-old,” added Stanworth. “The weird thing about what’s happened to him over the last year, with all his runs for Lancashire and now handling the step up to England, is it isn’t that much of a surprise.
“Perhaps it’s come earlier than I thought it was going to, but he’s as good a player as I’ve worked with. John Crawley’s talent stood out from the first time you saw him. Mike Atherton stood out too, for different reasons, and also Glen Chapple. But now it’s time for Hass. He’s going to have a career, isn’t he? Who knows how good it’s going to be?”