Some moments in sport feel special. There are occasions when – for example – we as spectators feel a sense of privilege in viewing a specific event, instilling us with a form of smugness that will enable us to gloat about having watched it in years to come. As I so willingly departed my bed at 4am on Sunday morning, I fully expected to witness one of those moments.
I had examined the innings of Haseeb Hameed – England’s new opening batsman – meticulously the morning before, watching him compile an organised, measured and precociously mature 62 not out by the close of play on day four. His technical ability against the new ball cast a shadow over Alastair Cook, probably our country’s finest ever opener who amassed his thirtieth Test match hundred on the final day’s play. His nonchalant swing of the bat to strike the bowling of Ravindra Jadeja over long-off for six was a shot of astounding confidence, technical ability and authority. Some moments just feel special.
Upon switching on the cricket the following morning, all English spectators who possessed the requisite loyalty to arise at such a ludicrous time were surely united in a sense of common optimism and hope that Hameed would reach a remarkable debut century. The composure, calmness and fearlessness he had delineated so palpably the day before – laying the foundations for England’s highest ever opening partnership in India – certainly justified our anticipation.
Hameed did not score a debut century. In such a sense, he failed to emulate the brilliance of Graham Thorpe at Nottingham in 1993, the boldness of Andrew Strauss at Lord’s in 2004 or the tenacity of Alastair Cook at a sweltering Nagpur in 2006. Pity.
This quantitative measure counts for little, however. Indeed, the nature of Hameed’s performance so significantly outweighed the fact he was dismissed for 82, demonstrating impeccable patience, technique and solidity throughout his outstanding innings. His half-century brought a tear to the eye of his father, who had travelled to Rajkot – his home town – with the rest of his family to offer support for the teenager, after investing so much of his own time nurturing Hameed into both the player and character he is today.
Hameed constitutes more than just a batsman. He is an endearing character, manifesting considerable maturity, disposition and likeability in his interviews. He is not arrogant, like many teenagers who have achieved his profound level of success may be. It may be early, but he possesses the demeanour of a potential future England captain. He is in this team to stay.
On the first Test’s evidence, England can travel to the second game in Visakhapatnam with hope. Alex Hales’ polemical decision not to travel to Bangladesh looks to have been a considerably costly one, probably ending his Test match career on a permanent basis owing to the talent of Hameed. England now possess stability at the top of the order, with two batsmen who adore occupying the crease for long periods and frustrating opposition attacks.
England have further reason to leave Rajkot with confidence. Like an epic Victorian novel, Adil Rashid seems to have finally come of age as a Test match spinner, bowling with renewed control and discipline and picking up seven wickets in the match. His second innings four-fer was superb, propelling his side into a position where a great victory was almost possible. It was only the brilliance of Virat Kohli that prevented it.
A win in Rajkot would have been one of the greatest sporting heists; a last-minute smash and grab that would have elevated spirit and confidence in the dressing room to profound levels. Nevertheless, England’s performance in this Test match will give the players a similar sort of feeling. The touring side were terrific, defying all the odds and criticisms that appeared ubiquitous pre-series and playing with boldness and courage to come away with a more than deserved draw. The potential for a whitewash no longer exists.
The pitch in Rajkot may have resembled the A1 up to Durham owing to its flatness, but England’s first innings performance with the bat disseminated a striking message that this team are not in India with the intention of succumbing to the spin of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja. England’s batsmen thwarted the threat of the pair unerringly, amassing a considerable 537 owing to the hundreds of Joe Root, Moeen Ali and Ben Stokes. It was the first trio of centuries England had hit in Asia since 1961, a year where The Beatles were still performing in the vibrant but unspectacular Cavern Club in Liverpool. This England team appear to be Coming Together.
Dilemmas exist, however. The tourists now have the option of deploying the skill of Jimmy Anderson in the second Test after his catalysed recovery from a once seemingly long-term shoulder injury, a selection that would inevitably lead to the unfortunate omission of the much-improved Chris Woakes. Woakes – whose development over the past year has been astonishing – offers so much to this England side, but Anderson’s genius with the ball is surely too tempting a prospect for the selectors to turn down.
This first Test match taught us a lot. We learned that England now possess a reliable, technically-astute and hungry opening partner for Alastair Cook, providing the team with a renewed sense of solidity at the top of the order. We learned that Adil Rashid is developing into a potentially crucial leg-spinner for England, bowling with intelligence and guile in the second-innings to pick up four important and confidence-hindering Indian wickets. Most fundamentally, we learned that this England team are not going to leave this tour without putting up a significant fight.
Moving on to the next Test on Thursday morning, England and their followers have every right to believe. A series win in India against this side would be one of the great victories of the modern era, eclipsing the triumph of 2012 and even the Ashes glory down under in 2010-11. On that tour, England had two solid opening batsmen, a match-winning spinner, a brilliant batsman who was heir to the captaincy and a fearless enigma batting at four. Sound familiar?