India had a close shave in the first Test Match against England at Rajkot as captain Virat Kohli had to arrest the quick fall of wickets and bat India to a draw. The game saw 6 individual centuries, 4 of them from England. However, it was a gutsy 82 that impressed the most. Making your Test debut as an opener for England at the young age of 19 is tough enough. To do it in India, where visiting batsmen have found it tough to get going, is a mighty task indeed.
Haseeb Hameed has wowed everyone with his technique and stroke play, especially fans back home. Ever since Andrew Strauss retired in 2012, England have had trouble finding a partner for Alastair Cook. Together, Strauss and Cook were the most productive opening pair for England, scoring 4711 runs at 40.96. England have tried 9 different opening partners for Cook between Strauss’ retirement and Hameed’s debuted. Below are the numbers.
Nick Compton did have a decent run, but as his form faded, he found himself out of favour with the selectors. His partnership with Cook does seem fruitful, although Compton himself only averaged 31.12 as an opener in 18 innings in an era where 40 is considered to be par. Surprisingly enough, England persisted with Alex Hales until the series against Bangladesh, even though he looked as comfortable as someone trying to do a Bhangra to Jazz.
Opening woes have haunted every team over the years. India had the famed Fab-four of Sehwag-Dravid-Sachin-Laxman for almost a decade but it was the inclusion of Gautam Gambhir along with Sehwag at the top of the order that helped India reach the pinnacle of Test rankings. Australia have had troubles of their own finding an opening partner to David Warner who is one of the best opening batsmen in Tests currently.
The ability to bat long and negate the early movement of the red ball is one of the qualities that many experts believe is diminishing due to T20 culture. Amidst all this, a youngster who plays with such maturity against the top ranked Test team on their home soil goes to show that Hameed is something special. The amount of backing Hameed has got just after one Test match is astounding. Many have pinned their hopes on him to break all the records that Alastair Cook and Joe Root will make in their respective careers.
Of course, everything wasn’t all hunky dory for Hameed in his debut game. He was dropped in the slips on the first morning and survived a few edges through the cordon later on. His ability to play with soft hands helped him survive those scares. Even against the spinners, in the second innings, he showed determination to not throw away his start like he did in the first innings, and complemented his captain to bring up England’s highest opening stand since March 2013.
Hameed has shown glimpses that he is made for greater things and the onus will be on the English management to look after this youngster well. Only 3 of Cook’s previous 9 opening partners are members of the current England squad, and with age on his side, Hameed has to take one step at a time.
It is a long tour for England and there will be a lot of challenges ahead for Hameed. The 2nd Test is to be played in Vizag, and if the recent ODI there against New Zealand is anything to go by, it will be an acid test for Hameed’s ability against spin. Alastair Cook, who made his debut a decade ago in India seems to have finally found an apprentice who will hopefully be 10th time lucky as far Cook’s opening partner is concerned.
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