The darkest hour, it is said, comes before the light shines. For Haseeb Hameed, though, the past two years have been a painful exercise – a fruitless escape bid from an endless labyrinth of self-doubt and external perplexity.
As he worked at his game, pondered over his struggles and fought with both himself and the whereabouts of his off-stump, he became entrenched in the midst of an inexorable vortex.
For all its camaraderie, there are few games as individual as cricket, and even fewer, perhaps, where form can both announce itself and disappear with such speed and intensity. And as Hameed’s difficulties became increasingly stark and unambiguously documented, so too did England’s great hope further engulf himself amid cricket’s curious maze.
The batsman who averaged just 9.4 in 2018’s County Championship could scarcely have looked further from the man-child who looked so at home on his England Test debut.
Back in 2016, he had been afforded an audience with Sachin Tendulkar; he had been eulogised by Virat Kohli; he was both saviour and savoured by a nation. Few have evoked such universal goodwill; when a broken finger brought a premature end to a promising series, nobody could have foreseen what followed. There was never a question of when or whether he would return to the world stage, only one of for how long he would grace the international arena.
Yet, as this year began – one of unprecedented scale and importance in English cricketing history – the same weight could be attached to Hameed’s fortunes. The dilemma was not of Hameed’s England career, but of his future as a Lancashire cricketer, entering the final year of a deal that, two years ago, seemed certain to become a central contract.
Rarely, perhaps, has one man held such support from so many corners. It was not just the obviousness of his talent, but a youthfulness that has made his strife so relatable, either as a parent to a son, a sibling to a brother or one team-mate to another. When it all went wrong, you hoped there was someone there reassuring him, even as he stumbled in the darkness, that there was a light switch nearby.
In a way that we rarely root for our domestic cricketers, social media has been gripped. And while Twitter is never the barometer by which to judge, the widespread excitement at Hameed’s tentative resurgence is tough to ignore.
As he went to three figures against a Middlesex attack featuring three Test wicket-takers, it was something more concrete than the double-hundred against the students of Loughborough University. Sceptics had serenaded it with the usual platitudes that come with MCCU hammerings.
But this has never been about a return to Test cricket. Rather, it is about humanity and finding a light at the end of a tunnel that was, with every passing week, dimming and flickering towards what had once seemed an unthinkable end. Now though, the labyrinth is no more. He’s out. The light is on.