Haseeb Hameed made a bright, if ultimately disappointing, 47 on the opening day of the County Championship season against Essex in his first major innings since the third Test against India at Mohali in late November.
Back then an unbeaten 59 underlined not only the young Lancashire opener’s quality but also his bravery as he impressively defied a broken finger.
A metal plate has since been inserted into the digit – the little finger on his left hand – and there it still remains. The 20-year-old will require surgery to remove that at some point before England’s Ashes tour of Australia begins in late October.
Given he will need six weeks to recover, a slot for early September after the Test summer concludes against West Indies looks likely.
For now, though, Hameed is focussing on getting himself into form ahead of England’s four-match series against South Africa starting in July.
This was his highest score since Mohali, with a disappointing England Lions tour of Sri Lanka in February, when he made 33 runs across two four-day matches, followed by an unbeaten seven against Cambridge University at Fenner’s last Sunday.
That last appearance was curtailed by another injury scare after he damaged the same little finger again, this time during fielding drills.
However, after scans ruled out any major damage, Hameed was cleared to play here against newly-promoted Essex, who were missing former England captain Alastair Cook with a hip injury.
Under the watchful eye of England batting coach Mark Ramprakash - as well as his parents, Ismail and Nujma - he looked the part, too, playing himself in to reach lunch unbeaten on 47.
That promising start was brought to a halt in the second over of the afternoon session when Hameed showed a rare lapse in judgement when he was bowled shouldering arms to a delivery from Jamie Porter without adding another run to his score. He had been at the crease for 103 balls.
“It was good to bat for a while and make a start,” said Hameed. “Hopefully I can build on it.
“The finger’s fine. There was a bit of a freak incident last week – trapping it in the warm-up. I was doing some short-leg practice and jammed it between ball and turf.
“I tried batting with it and it was quite painful. It swelled up quite a lot so I think we made the right decision getting it checked out and thankfully it’s okay.”
As for the metal plate still in the finger, Hameed added: “The surgeon suggested when there’s a bit of time off it might be worth getting it out but there’s a six-week recovery period after that surgery so if I’ve got a bit of time in the future I’ll take it out.”
Hameed’s dismissal precipitated a Lancashire wobble that saw them slip from 118 for two to 160 for six. But a spirited 74 from former South Africa wicketkeeper Dane Vilas, a newly-signed Kolpak addition at Old Trafford, helped the visitors post 319 batting first before Essex closed on 39 for two in reply.
There was a wicket for James Anderson, the leader of England’s attack, too.
Yet if Anderson, who looked in good shape following the shoulder injury that ruled him out of the final Test against India in Chennai before Christmas, is almost yesterday’s man, Hameed is very much England’s future.
The hype surrounding the Bolton-born batsman, dubbed ‘Baby Boycott’, may be slightly excessive.
After all, Keaton Jennings, who replaced the injured Hameed for the final two Tests in India, made a century on debut in Mumbai.
However, the fact Hameed – who was Cook’s 10th opening partner when he made his own debut in Rajkot last winter – looked so comfortable on the biggest stage at the age of 19 suggested England have unearthed a once-in-a-generation talent.
His second-innings 82 in Rajkot was the highest score by a teenage batsman for England in Tests, beating the 74 scored by Jack Crawford against South Africa at Cape Town in 1906.
That knock in Mohali, when his team-mates collapsed around him as England slumped to an abject eight-wicket defeat, was also the sign of a genuinely special player.
Time will tell on both those counts but the man himself, he is no longer a teenager after turning 20 in January, is not getting ahead of himself.
“To be honest I’m looking at it in very small passages,” he said. “There’s a lot of cricket to be played before that Test series takes place in July so I’m very much focussed on doing my best for Lancashire and hopefully that’ll bring success for myself and the club.”