Tuesday, 13 September 2016

On records, Hales, and Hameed

Tuesday, 13 September 2016
Not long ago, after Jason Roy scored 162 in an ODI against Sri Lanka, I wrote that it was only a matter of time before Robin Smith's 23-year-old record for England's highest individual ODI score would be broken. In this series against Pakistan, it happened - by Roy's opening partner, Alex Hales.

Gone were those struggles of the test series, with Hales the test batsman replaced by Hales the ODI batsman, those different characters he often seems to play. The man who had already scored three ODI centuries in the last twelve months added another, and his greatest score yet: 171, that record of Robin Smith's finally falling. And not the last record to fall in the day. England surpassed their own  highest ODI score, then it was the world's best - 444/3. Buttler (90*), Root (85), and Morgan (57*) were all involved as well. And even Pakistan got their own record too, Mohammad Amir (58) hitting the highest score by a number eleven batsmen - sadly, all futile by that stage. On went England to a 4-1 series victory, and despite defeat in the Twenty20 that followed, they showed again how they have developed into a serious force in the shortened formats.

But international cricket moves on as quickly as it ever does, and even ODI heroics would have been unlikely to save Hales for the fast approaching test series in Bangladesh. In any case, Hales will not be joining the England squads for the tour, choosing alongside the captain Eoin Morgan to sit out the tour through security fears. It's a decision that for both has brought much scrutiny and often criticism. But such a harsh fare as both, and especially Morgan, have faced feels rather unjust. Assurances have been made, but the ultimate decision was always to be given to the players themselves, with a promise of no consequences. So for the decision to then be called 'disappointing' by the ECB, and then lambasted from many quarters as well, all seems a bit unfair. Sure, I might have liked to see them tour, but it was given as a personal decision for the players and their families, and so it should be left as such.

Lancashire's Haseeb Hameed currently looks like the latest man set to be given the job as Alastair Cook's partner at the top of the order. At least, he is the man currently being 'floated' as the likely option - a recent trend by the selectors to see how the player reacts to an increased spotlight, one that didn't work out well for Scott Borthwick earlier in the summer. Of course, Hameed cannot be mentioned without reference to both his achievements, and his age. Just nineteen years old, so far this season he has scored 1129 runs at 51.31 with four centuries and seven fifties. But the flipside is that - he is just nineteen. Will it be too much, too soon?

The argument has always been there - if you're good enough, you're old enough. The evidence has suggested Hameed is good enough, and certainly he has a huge future in the game. He's something of a throwback in this current age, more traditional in approach than is typical of the Twenty20 generation. It's an approach and mentality not dissimilar from Cook's, and one suited to the test match arena. And, by all accounts, he is a natural. Though touring the subcontinent can be a daunting start to a test career, it is a place where openers can prosper, and is often the best time in the innings to bat. Indeed, Cook made his debut in India aged only 21 - and we know what happened there. Joe Root as well, though not opening, made his mark straight away at a young age. They were good enough, so they were old enough.

If they do choose Hameed, they need to stick with him. He can be a big hit, but there will be bad days too. Some things can be learnt only from experience. It is an investment for the future as much as the present, and so the ups and downs must both be accepted. England need their opening batsman to still be their opening batsman when they visit Australia in just over a year's time. This is the chance to blood the new man, give them that experience, and not just be starting fresh with the pressures of an Ashes tour. But to focus on the present, this is the perfect chance for a new man to make his mark.

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