Ismail Hameed had an unusual hero, while growing up as a cricket-obsessed youngster in Gujarat in the mid 70s. It was the usual Kapil Dev or Sunil Gavaskar. Or Kris Srikkanth or Dilip Vengsarkar. It was that stodgy English technician, Geoffrey Boycott, who by then was treading the sunset of his career.
In the late 80s, he shifted to Bolton for a better livelihood. He might have been busy yarning a better livelihood in a textile factory, though he still squeezed in time to represent semi-professional leagues in his locality. And when he expanded his household, he dusted up that old fixation for Boycott.
He bought old video tapes of Boycott and religiously showed them to his three sons, Safwaan, Numan and Haseeb. He would then make them “bat like Boycott” for hours on end in the neighbouring park. Soon, Ismail gave up his job in the factory and became a driving instructor so that he could spend more time drilling the technique of Boycott into his sons. The third son, though, showed more inclination to bowling and he would join his brothers and father in the park after school.
To his credit, Ismail straightaway made them bat and bowl with the leather ball. So the boys shed the fear of the leather ball at a young age. The older boys were in the Lancashire U-15 team as pure batsmen. But Haseeb’s first love was always leg-spin bowling, and it was as a leggie who could bat that he was picked for the Lancashire U-15 team, when he was just eight.
Maybe Haseeb was such a naturally talented batsman that his batting potential couldn’t be obscured for long. During a club game, he made an unbeaten 19 for his club Tong CC, which wowed the coach and senior players in the side. In a couple of seasons, he showed such precocious potential that he was opening the innings for his club and Lanchasire. His narrative was just beginning to unfold.
Hours of watching Boycott’s footages and twice as many hours of technical finetuning under his father’s gaze—his father is still his coach and mentor—helped him evolve into a fine batsman with a composure and belief that belied his age. The conditions back home too helped develop a compact technique. “The nature of the pitches, typical league cricket up north where it rains a lot; it’s slow and low, helped me. You’ve got to be careful driving on the up and the like. I had to wait for the ball and not leave my bubble, be patient. It’s always been that way for me,” he told The Guardian in an interview early this year.
Touted as the most promising batsman teenager around, he made his U-19 debut at the age of 17, and soon he was touring Australia for an U-19 Test series. In the first innings in Perth, he made a duck, but in the second he epitomised all the virtues his father’s idol had embodied in his career. Trailing by 300-odd runs, he engineered a resillient reardguard operation, soaking up 256 balls for an unbeaten, eventually match-saving 91.The effort earned him the moniker “Lancashire Wall”. That was only a preface.
Soon, he was blooded into the Lancashire first team. Last August, he was handed out his debut, against Glamorgan. He composed 28 off 119 balls in difficult conditions. However, for all his crease-occupation, a century eluded him, until his 11th match, against Warwickshire when he scored a crabby 103 off 295 balls, spending six-and-a-half hours at the crease against a rounded attack comprising former England bowler Samit Patel and Boyd Rankin.
More centuries flowed from his bat. He then became the first Lancashire batsman to score back-to-back hundreds against Yorkshire, showing again his fondness for occupying the crease. He batted for five hours for 114 in the first innings before reeling off, to show his other side of batsmanship, with a brisk 100 off 124 balls, against a bowling firm that featured Tim Bresnan, Ryan Sidebottom and Adil Rashid.
The knock fetched him instant applause from present and former players was a match-saving 122, occupying the crease for more than six hours, in the second dig against Nottinghamshire, whose bowling unit featured Stuart Broad and Imran Tahir. Thus in 31 innings, he racked up 1411 runs at an average of 50.39. And per innings, he consumes an average of 117 balls.
Among those wowed by his batting is former English skipper and opener Mike Atherton, who has dubbed his batting “Atherton-like”. Former Lancashire colleague and South Africa batsman Ashwell Prince says “he’s born to bat”. In the county circuit, he is called “Bolton Blocker” and “Bolton Boycott”.
If he makes his England debut against Bangladesh or later against India, he will be the youngest English debutant since Ben Hollioke and only the second teenager to play for England in the last 67 years.
While his father wants his son to keep producing Boycott-like knocks, Haseeb has bigger ambitions. “I want to emulate guys Kohli, Root, Williamson, players who play very organised cricket across the three formats extremely well. If you’ve got the basics and you’re strong in your basics, then you can develop your game very quickly. You just need to watch Kohli, the way he manipulates gaps so well and times the ball. I’m confident that down the line I’ll be able to do that as well.”