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Key was watching Haines, Sussex’s young captain, bat on the opening day of the season, April 7, when he made 57 against Nottinghamshire at Hove.
10 days later, Key was appointed to his new job and, neatly, Haines compiled a career-best 243, in the highest partnership of the season (351 with Cheteshwar Pujara) to save a game against Derbyshire that once seemed doomed. Haines’ phone ran hot with mates sending him Key’s tweet.
It is easy to see what Key likes about Haines. In a struggling Sussex side, he led the County Championship run-scoring charts last season with 1,176, which was 101 more than any other batter, including three centuries and six more fifties.
He is an organised left-hander who describes his approach as “simple, not overcomplicating things”, the virtues Key espoused in his first two jobs as a player and pundit.
Looks a bloody good player tom Haines imho.
— Rob Key (@robkey612) April 7, 2022
“It’s all the stuff you’ve heard before,” Haines tells Standard Sport. “A clear mind, a simple technique, get through tough spells, hit the bad ball for four. Actually doing it is harder than saying it, but that’s what I’m trying to do.”
Since his breakout year, Haines’ gig has become arguably the toughest in county cricket. He led Sussex a bit last summer, but has since become the youngest club captain in the game.
At 23, he is combining opening the batting (at a time when others tuck themselves down the order) with leading Sussex, the county bottom of Division Two after three games, who have seen a clearout of senior players in recent seasons and are trusting youth to an almost unprecedented degree: they have already used eight players younger than Haines this season.
Haines carefully thought through whether to take on the captaincy, consulting his father and others close to him. They drew up a list of “benefits and downfalls” before deciding it was too good an opportunity to turn down.
“I feel there are lot of benefits for me in terms of learning the game,” he says. “I think if you are scoring runs as captain that is looked upon well. I always enjoyed captaincy in the age groups, second team. I like leading the team, having to think about the game closely as it goes along.
“You have to deal with the stresses and pressures of it, so splitting the captaincy and the batting is important.
“I have enjoyed it so far, and that’s because I’m really trying to separate what happens in the field and when I’m batting. When I’m batting it’s leading from the front and scoring runs. In the field I am concentrating solely on that.”
Haines says he has been helped by senior players like Pujara and Steven Finn, and the runs are still flowing from the local lad’s bat: since the start of last summer his average is 50.6. That suggests a young man taking the responsibility in his stride.
Haines was unfortunate to miss out on England Lions selection last winter, but says he “accepted it, didn’t dwell on it, got my head down and worked hard” in a bid for another big season, knowing that he would be more of a marked man and that his name was entering the conversation – as Key’s tweet highlighted.
“I wanted to back up a good season with another good year, which is tough,” he says. “It’s been a decent start but a lot of hard work to put in, some scores to get yet.
“Runs are the currency that get you where you want to be. For me that has always been playing Test cricket for England. That is the pinnacle.
“It’s obviously nice to have my name linked to that, but I can’t get caught up in it. Do that and you lose focus on the here and now, which is Championship cricket. It’s such a tough schedule with four days on, three off for seven weeks. I can’t lose focus on that.”
An attitude like that will keep Key interested, no doubt.