Hameed and the brutal agony of the golden duck

In total, 1,655 men have been dismissed first ball in Test cricket.

Some of those are baffling. Both William Whitty and Sanath Jayasuriya managed to be out for one. Neither were run out – they were both caught. How they scored one run and were dismissed from the only delivery they faced is a mystery.

Some are infamous. In 1981, Ian Botham’s second-innings nought against Australia at Lord’s completed a pair and was one of his last acts as England captain. What followed at Headingley is etched into cricketing folklore.

Others are a tiny speck in the history of the game. England’s Alan Wells was out first ball against West Indies in 1995 and never played Test cricket again.

None, though, can match Haseeb Hameed for the collective sense of heartbreak, devastation and desolation.

This was supposed to be his glorious return. The great redemption. Affirmation that anything is possible with perseverance, belief and hard work.

Hameed went 1,717 days between England appearances. The waif-like youth barely out of school, ‘Baby Boycott’, a 19-year-old batting like a veteran for three Tests in India in 2016.

Then and now: Hameed in 2016 and 2021

And then? Nothing. A five-year roam in the wilderness that started with a broken hand and plummeted to a lack of form that threatened his career.

Some never wavered in their belief that he would come again – even when he went a whole season averaging only nine in first-class cricket.

The Bolton boy had to up sticks to get back on track. His move from Lancashire to Nottinghamshire not only saw the runs return, but those in the know talk of greater strength and maturity. For a while, the England recall has felt inevitable.

Anyone who has ever played cricket, at any level, will know about the indignity of a golden duck.

If the humiliation of having a nought by your name isn’t enough, there is the number one next to it, etching in history the fact you were unable to survive a single, measly delivery.

Some batsmen liken getting out to a kind of slow death, complete with the sense of grief that follows.

A golden duck is an instant execution. Not even the chance to say your last words from the gallows, because the firing squad have pulled the trigger before your neck is in the noose.

The anticipation of an innings is to wonder where the journey will take you – the shots, the sweat, the verbal joust with the bowler – yet a golden duck is the ultimate bursting of a dream, like ending an adventure before you’ve packed your bags.

In fact, a golden duck can take less time than it takes to put your pads on.

Who hasn’t waited to bat full of optimism? For Hameed, the wait lasted almost five years.

Out he came, cheered to the crease by the Lord’s crowd, swinging the bat as he moved towards the crease, wearing a chest guard that looked like someone had stuffed a car door inside his shirt.

Three times he checked his guard, scratching at the ground to make sure he would be in exactly the right place.

What followed was inexplicable. A straight ball from Mohammed Siraj missed, in cricketing terms, by light years. Middle and off stumps castled. A golden duck. After all that.

Haseeb Hameed
Haseeb Hameed averaged 43.80 from his three Tests before this match

Lord’s let out a collective gasp of dismay. Never has such a level of optimism been so swiftly destroyed so brutally.

Then the lonely and disconsolate trudge back. Even the hardest heart would have wanted to run over and give him a big cuddle, tell him everything will be OK and that cricket is a stupid game anyway.

Still, when you have endured what Hameed has been through, to even be back playing for England is a victory in itself.

Although he suffered the agony of a first-baller, he was still able to emerge on the dressing room balcony, sharing a joke with his team-mates.

In 1902, South Africa great Jimmy Sinclair, a man who once escaped a prisoner of war camp and played rugby for both the Springboks and England, made 104 against Australia after registering a golden duck earlier in the match.

That’s the thing about Test cricket – there’s always the second innings.

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