What is cricket meant to look like now?
Haseeb Hameed’s debut series cut short, but prompts us to ponder, ‘what is cricket meant to look like?’.
As far as debut series go, Hameed has done almost as much to draw superlatives from cricket’s most cynical observers as his opening counterpart Alastair Cook did following the England captain’s first test, also on Indian soil, at Nagpur back in 2006.
Few will have enjoyed the empathetically wrenching torment that was watching Alex Hales’s first fidgety foray in to test cricket. His Test match batting style, so wonderfully equipped to tackle the more dynamic cricket required to be a member of England’s frenetic one-day top order, was ruthlessly exposed over and over again – especially outside his off stump.
His self-expulsion, with security worries the core reason not to tour Bangladesh, may well have felt like a huge relief. Hales’s temperament was tested just as much as his technique and in the end, both unfortunately failed him.
In comparison, Hameed’s composure provides sweet relief after top order rot that has plagued England since Lord Strauss vacated his iron thrown, the former captain destined to leave microphones on and run English Cricket among other things.
‘Mini Boycs’ has earned himself a reputation for showing technical ability to rival the best, certainly within the English game, and has already shown many in the game just how high the price on his wicket is.
He’s also done much to dispel the notion of him being a one dimensional cricketer. After the media scribes had spent much of the day pulling their hair out as to how one could have three nets, yet not be fit to bat, Hammed emerged to play an innings defined by bravery and extraordinary stroke play – despite being unable to halt England’s slide towards another defeat.
England’s recent issues with opening batsmen begs quite a poignant question, in light of the sheer weight of change confronting the modern game. Just what is cricket meant to look like? In an age defined by immediate demand and decreasing attention spans, just what will a player like Hameed’s career look like?
Michael Atherton was quick to call in to question just how bright Hameed’s career will be, given the seemingly frail future of the longer form of the game. Hameed is yet to play in a T20 or List A game for his county, and is thus quite some distance from the bountiful lands of domestic T20 leagues which provide constant pay days for so many.
Yet, the excitement and furor around both Hameed and Keaton Jenning’s arrival on the Test Match stage indicates that there is still space for difference, still a role for perpetual stubbornness as well as for the innovators in the game.
Cricket is a sport defined by nuance and subtlety. It is why, perhaps, that the modern style of explosive play has sent such a shockwave through the game – manifesting itself in what has become the most marketable version of cricket in T20.
Our game would become increasingly dull without the variance in style, attitude and characters that typifies its mass appeal. Will the decline in popularity of test cricket see players become more similar to each other, with certain skills and disciplines lost to time? Games eventually taking a very similar pattern to the last, boundaries reigning down on helmet clad supporters diving over advertising hoardings to reach cover?
In this debate, I’ve happily played devil’s advocate. The same seismic change alluded to has seen so many fantastic developments to the game, in terms of fielding quality and player pay to mention but just two.
However, the public reaction to the Bolton Blocker gives more than a slight indication that there is still demand for something outside of what we consider the norm.
Cynics are quite right to question how many more Test match specialists we will see, but while those players still maintain the ability to capture our hearts and minds, let us rejoice in watching a talented young man inspire other young players to seek to break the mould.
© Cricket World 2016