Nottinghamshire opener ends day not-out in follow-on as Worcestershire keep pressing
Nottinghamshire 276 (Hameed 111, Moores 62; Morris 3-30) and 87 for 0 (Slater 45*, Hameed 37*) trail Worcestershire 436 by 73 runs
Haseeb Hameed is long past the time in his life when he accepts cricket’s assurances at face value. While the rest of us are free to view the perfectly timed push through the off side that brought him to his first hundred in over two years as marking a further confirmation of his return to form after haunted late seasons at Lancashire, the batsman himself will now want more, for both himself and for Nottinghamshire. He was plainly irritated to be caught behind by Ben Cox off Joe Leach for 111 when trying to angle the ball to third man. In the manner of all professional batsmen his attention will have shifted to the next innings.
That opportunity was not long in arriving. Hameed had been one of the last five Nottinghamshire batsmen dismissed in little more than ten overs and his side’s concession of a 160-run first-innings lead was followed quickly afterwards by Leach exercising his option of enforcing the follow-on. This was a surprise in itself: unless time is clearly pressing, asking a side to bat again sometimes seems to belong to the same era as pressing button B, buying a postal order or listening to the Third Programme on a wireless receiving set.
Nevertheless, barely 40 minutes after he trooped off New Road, slapping his pad in annoyance, Hameed was walking out again to face an attack clearly set on keeping their boots on the necks of Nottinghamshire’s cricketers. Like the April sunshine on this chilly afternoon at Worcester, his century was to be enjoyed but not yet unconditionally trusted. There was more work to be done. And despite the fact that he had already batted 400 minutes, Hameed will have relished this fresh responsibility just as he welcomed being appointed Nottinghamshire’s vice-captain at the start of this season. For one thing, fresh labours will replace some painful memories…
In 2016 watching Hameed bat might have been prescribed for people needing to find calm in their lives; three years later, a disordered relic of that gorgeous technique had itself become enough to cause anxiety among spectators. A player who had once invested the act of leaving the ball with natural grace suddenly found he was incapable of performing the act with even functional efficiency. Hameed was lbw or bowled letting deliveries go; he nicked catches off balls he should have left. A barely launched career that had been a statistical wonder became a repository of oddities. Lovers of the game who had derived deep joy from Hameed’s batting sat in the stands like John Steinbeck’s farmers: thinking, figuring, but never quite losing hope. After all, this was ‘Has’ and they had been through a lot together.
Early in 2019 there had been a quite lovely hundred against Middlesex at Lord’s but that summer brought him only 341 first-class runs and in late August the player seen two years previously as the future of English top-order batting was released by Lancashire. The news broke during an Ashes Test in which, so it had once been blithely assumed, Hameed was likely to be playing. Some thought Old Trafford’s decision premature but it was actually helpful. In order to revive the gift he valued most of all, Hameed needed to free himself from connections that had outlived their usefulness. Trent Bridge and the coaching of Peter Moores seemed the place to go. It still does.
In such a broad context it is easy to imagine the quiet pleasure Hameed might have derived from helping his fellow opener, Ben Slater, bat out the remaining 35 overs of this day. Nottinghamshire reached the close on 87 without loss after the third evening’s cricket at New Road bore a remarkable resemblance to the second. But Nottinghamshire’s coaches will hope that is where the comparisons end.
And, of course, one sees their point. Resuming on 99 without loss this morning, the visitors progressed carefully to 115 before Slater attempted to drive a ball from Brett D’Oliveira and was well caught by Daryl Mitchell at slip. After a similarly fine snare by Ed Barnard at point off Alzarri Joseph had ended Ben Duckett’s brief innings on 5, the rest of the session was dominated by a high-quality six-over spell by Charlie Morris that removed Joe Clarke, Lyndon James and Steven Mullaney.
Morris bowled beautifully this morning: compelling the shot, nipping it around and nagging like the taxman. He fully deserved to take three wickets in 14 balls. Clarke was bowled by one that squirmed between bat and pad; James was leg before to one that came back; Mullaney was castled when he opted to not even hoist the drawbridge. (Incidentally this has so far been a lousy match for middle-order batsmen. Clarke’s 27 is the best any of them have managed and he was badly dropped by Leach at mid-on off D’Oliveira when he had made only 8.)
Recovery of a sort was mounted by Tom Moores who scored 62 of the 89 runs in his sixth-wicket partnership with Hameed. However, after pulling two sixes and taking 24 runs off the first five balls of a D’Oliveira over, Moores tried to smack the sixth ball into New Road but only skied it to Leach at long-on. It was an extraordinarily ill-conceived shot, especially given that patting the ball down the pitch would have been equally wounding, albeit in a different way. That began the late collapse that brought Hameed back to the middle rather sooner than he or probably his colleagues had envisaged.
Given that they were perhaps expecting to be asked to save the game on Sunday, the composure displayed by the Nottinghamshire openers bodes well for their side’s hopes in the final sessions of this game. The pitch is not yet helping the bowlers to an extent that will cause alarm and the odds are surely on a draw. Only a repeat of the general frailty displayed on this third day will lead to this game ending with the unexpected denouement of a home win.
However, another mystery has already been solved in a most heart-warming fashion with the note from cathedral authorities informing local media that the flag of St George was not flying atop the tower on April 23 because two peregrine falcons were nesting there and no one was allowed near them. Quite right, too. Falcons are rare birds. Batsmen of Hameed’s ability and composure are pretty scarce as well and the strange arc of his career has not yet reached his apogee.
Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications