Haseeb Hameed is an exceptionally precocious young man. That we knew already. But even by his standards, this is impressive. Hameed, England’s youngest ever opening batsman, is in the midst of recounting Michael Atherton’s famous duel with Allan Donald at Trent Bridge in 1998.
There is just one slight issue: Hameed was 18 months old when this Test match took place. I ask if he remembers it. “I’m not saying I watched it live!” he laughs, with that vague bemusement people deploy when addressing someone ever so slightly dim. Of course he does not remember it. But this is the thing about Hameed: so preternaturally gifted is he, so bafflingly ahead of his modest years, that you could never quite rule out the possibility. We have alighted on Atherton and Donald by way of a conversation about fast bowling. Should Hameed continue his stellar development, there is every chance he will be walking out to face the new ball at Brisbane in the first Ashes Test in November. There are few more intimidating tests in sport.
And for all Hameed has achieved in his short career, this remains the most intriguing unknown. Hameed took to Test cricket like a duck to orange sauce, in a delectable debut series against India that was unluckily curtailed by a broken finger. But Australian pace, on Australian pitches, in front of an Australian crowd: this is an entirely different sort of challenge. How does he think he will cope?
“It’s exactly the sort of thing you want to play the game for,” he says.
“It’s a highly intimidating situation, and you shouldn’t shy from that.
“You’ve got to relish it. The best players are the ones who find a way of getting into the battle. I look at when Atherton faced that spell off Donald. He got hit. He didn’t look pretty at times. But he got through it.
That’s what gets remembered in the end.”
If there is a gap in Hameed’s cricketing education, extreme pace on hard pitches is probably it. The fastest spell he has faced, he reckons, was from Tino Best of Hampshire last season. “I came through that OK,” he remembers. “The way I see it, that sort of challenge is a challenge for anyone, no matter what level you’re at.
“I was watching the recent India v Australia series. Some of the spells Pat Cummins was bowling, you can see it was a challenge even for some of the more experienced guys. I’ve just got to back my skills. You’ve got to wear them on the body at times: that’s part of the game, people get hit. But it’s a case of finding a method.”
One thing we can say with certainty is that Hameed will not go into battle unprepared. Watching England Test matches from the 1990s is second nature to a player with an unquenchable thirst for cricket. “I’ve always been a student of the game,” he says. “I like watching great games from the past. Someone like Sir Viv Richards: wow. This guy was 30 years ahead of his generation. You can only learn from that.”
And Hameed will go on learning, even if he will have to wait until July to resume his Test career. In the meantime, his focus is on Lancashire, where he hopes to supplement his four-day experience with a run of white-ball cricket.
“What helped me to play for England was not thinking about playing for England,” he says. “I’m not thinking about July yet. As soon as you get too far ahead of the game, it drags you back down.”