The fingers of her right hand are still busy rolling over the prayer beads, and with her left hand Nazma Hameed is wiping the tears. Just a seat away is her husband, Ismail, a retired driving instructor from Bolton who migrated from Bharuch in the late 60s. He can’t take his eyes off the lush green cricket field, dimly lit by the setting sun. The couple’s two equally emotional sons are in the front row, along with their young families. They are beaming. The baby of the family, 19-year-old Hasseb Hameed, is down on the central square, raising his bat to the family.
By stumps, he is unbeaten on 62, make it 38 short of his England debut hundred. The boy nicknamed Baby Boycott for his textbook old-world cricket, walked out of the field after the day’s play with opening partner Alastair Cook. The two ensured England finished at 114 for no loss snuffing out India’s faint victory chance. A decade back, the England captain made a century on his Test debut in India. Just a day before, local Cheteshwar Pujara was raising his bat, like Hameed, with his father and wife wiping tears of joy. This Test might be heading for a dull draw, but ask the Hameeds or Pujaras, they won’t forget these five days at Rajkot.
This sparkling new stadium on the city’s outskirts will always be their Theatre of Dreams.
Before giving a short interview to the Sky TV team, which will get beamed all across UK, father Ismail spares a moment. He combs his grey hair and stokes his beard. “I played a bit of amateur cricket in a village near Bharuch. Once I migrated to UK, I played a bit of club cricket. I would have never imagined this,” he says.
His elder son Safwaan, a semi-professional club cricketer in Bolton, can’t get over the coincidence that Haseeb made his debut where their roots are. “Don’t know who is writing his script!” he exclaims. The family is regular with their visit to Gujarat and they speak Gujarati at home. This time too, they are attending a wedding, plus watching cricket.
Before the India tour, Haseeb seemed all set to make his Test debut in Bangladesh. His parents and siblings, all except Safwaan, flew from Bolton to Dhaka. It was a tad disappointing as Hameed did drinks duty. “I have this running joke with my brother, that he would play a Test only when I was around,” he says.
Exactly opposite to where the Hameeds sat, is the press box where the English media is celebrating the birth of a star. At tea, there were fears that England would collapse on the fourth day track against India’s fearsome spinners Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, just like against Mehedi Hasan Miraz and Shakib Al Hasan. The teen prodigy ensured there was no repeat of Bangladesh, where England lost 10 wickets in a session. In the commentary box is former England captain Michael Atherton. Haseeb reminds many of Atherton, who has high praise for the boy who plays for his county Lancashire. “He is a neat player with an old-fashioned preference for a big stride towards the ball. He stands with his feet close together too, another nod to the past,” he wrote in his Sunday Times column during the Bangladesh tour.
Safwaan says that the reason for his brother’s correct play is his father, who was a fan of Boycott, Ian Chappell and Gavaskar. Incidentally, describing the action for Rajkot, in the commentary box, were both Gavaskar and Boycott.
“Me, my other brother Nuaman are all openers. Even my father was one. Since we brothers had such a perfect technique, whichever team we played for our coaches always put us at the top of the order,” says the eldest Hameed sibling who now coaches and works in a bank.
Haseeb first thought of becoming a cricketer when he was in Mumbai with Safwaan. “I went to the MIG club where I had this brief interaction with Sachin Tendulkar. Haseeb was just seven at that point but he saw the kind of attention and adulation that the Indian cricket star gets. It was at this point, he decided to be a cricketer,” he says. It took the young boy about a decade to make the world realise that he wasn’t a day dreamer. Haseeb would match Tendulkar’s county record. By scoring two successive first class tons as a teenager for Lancashire, the young opener announced that he had arrived.
Even when the interviews are over, Safwaan still can’t believe what he has just seen. “Just eight months back, me and Haseeb were sitting in our living room watching the T20 World Cup. We would see Virat Kohli score runs and discuss ‘how can this guy score runs in every game?’. We would even discuss things like ‘If given a choice who would you want to meet – Virat or Ronaldo’? Now imagine here he is on the same field as Virat. He is just a 19-year-old after all,” he says.
There is this other conversation the two cricket-playing brothers had that comes to Safwaan’s mind. It’s a puzzling cricketing setback. To everyone’s surprise Haseeb failed to make it to the England under-19 squad and there was despair at home. However, the boy with the ‘unflappable temperament’, as described by captain Cook, wasn’t worried. Safwaan gives a dramatic pause before giving the punchline. “I have a bigger fish to fry.” Today the fish was fried and the Hameeds were feasting.