England now has two partners for Cook!

Whether and how Haseeb Hameed and Keaton Jennings fit into the same England team remains to be seen... While it may be tempting to view them as in competition with one another for one spot in England’s top order, given England’s batting frailties they could conceivably make up two members of a top three alongside Cook, with Joe Root sliding down to four and Jos Buttler making way.

That his father is a coach has helped Keaton Jennings.   -  PTI

Haseeb Hameed has been named 'Baby Boycott,' for his stoic ways at the crease.   -  REUTERS

It may seem strange to look for positives in a series thrashing such as the one England have received in India. Yet, after four Tests out of five, England have ostensibly stumbled upon two top-order batsmen who could well prove to be solutions to the long-running soap opera of finding an opening partner for Alastair Cook.

The discoveries of Haseeb Hameed and Keaton Jennings should not detract from England’s failures on this tour, but given the difficulty in finding a replacement for Andrew Strauss, who retired in August 2012, they could prove to be particularly precious finds.

For both Hameed and Jennings these are of course, very early days. If there is anything England should have learned from their tribulations searching for Strauss’ replacement, in which they have now tried 11 different players, it is that a single series does not make a Test opener. Nick Compton, Sam Robson and Adam Lyth all scored centuries when opening and Michael Carberry faced more balls than any other England player in the 2013/14 Ashes, yet none of them won long-term favour with the selectors.

However, with Hameed and Jennings it has not so much been the runs they have scored that will give England cause for optimism but the manner and circumstances in which they scored them. Alongside the 19-year-old Hameed it is easy to overlook that Jennings is also young at just 24, yet despite their youth, both have displayed hugely impressive temperament in some of the most challenging conditions and against some of the best bowlers in world cricket.

Given Hameed’s age and that in his three Tests he showed off perhaps the most resolute defensive game of the series, scored a fifty with a broken hand and faced more balls in a series than any teenager other than Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Sachin Tendulkar, he has naturally attracted greater attention than Jennings. It is telling that the acclaim he has since received has seemed as appropriate as it has seemed hyperbolic. While England’s management have a duty to ensure Hameed, pictured recently with his childhood inspiration Tendulkar, retains a sense of perspective, there is an ineffable feeling that he will do that himself.

For Jennings, having been dropped on nought before going on to become, perhaps symbolically, the first England opener to score a century on debut since Strauss, things could have been very different, but the catch was not held though and one close lbw reprieve aside the rest of his innings was imbued with a confidence suggestive of player at ease with his own game and approach — at no moment was this more apparent than when he brought up his century with a reverse swept four.

Sharing the same unflappable temperament is where comparisons between these two players end. Hameed and Jennings have travelled two hearteningly different routes to England’s Test team. In an era of high-performance programmes and cricketers fast-tracked to professionalism from an early age — an era that Hameed personifies — it is pleasing to see a cricketer such as Jennings, who last year begun an accounting course in preparation for life after cricket, find a run of form that propelled him into the national team thanks largely to, in his own words, “finding happiness outside of cricket” despite growing up surrounded by it.

Jennings is the son of former South Africa coach Ray, who he calls ‘Coachie’ not Dad. Having been born in South Africa, Jennings represented them at Under-19 level before moving from Gauteng to Durham, thanks in part due to his father’s friendship with Durham coach Geoff Cook. It wasn’t until 2016 that the decision bore fruit when Jennings was named as the Cricket Writers Cricketer of the Year after finishing as the leading run-scorer in the country with 1,548 runs inclusive of seven hundreds. Jennings is a compact left-hander, with a career strike rate of 46.51, but his 88 off 58 balls in the NatWest T20 Blast Final this season revealed an expanded range of shots which was further evident in his debut century in Mumbai.

Hameed has never played a limited overs match of any kind and may never do. Nicknamed the ‘Baby Boycott’ he, like Jennings, shot to fame in the 2016 season after scoring 1,198 runs at a strike rate of just 39.01 in the Championship for Lancashire including centuries in both innings of the Roses match against Yorkshire. Unlike Jennings, however, the rise of Hameed was nothing if not expected. Hameed has been involved in every Lancashire age-group side since Under-13 level and when he was 15 travelled to India to work with batting coach Vidyadhar Paradkar. Hameed, like Jennings, appears encouragingly confident in his method. According to the cricket analytics company CricViz, Hameed left or defended 420 of the 640 balls he faced in the series.

Whether and how Hameed and Jennings fit into the same England team remains to be seen. England’s next Test match after the India series is in July, when they host South Africa, and before that Hameed and Jennings will find themselves on the same team when they represent England Lions in Sri Lanka in February and March and will play a handful of matches for their respective counties. While it may be tempting to view them as in competition with one another for one spot in England’s top order, given England’s batting frailties they could conceivably make up two members of a top three alongside Cook, with Joe Root sliding down to four and Jos Buttler making way. Whatever the solution, after a winter of toil, it is one problem England won’t mind having.