Haseeb Hameed insists his determination to reach the top is as strong as ever despite a horrible past two years dogged by injury and loss of form.
Hameed is hoping to use his friendly double century against Loughborough MCC Universities last week as a springboard to get back to the sort of form which saw him break into the England Test team in late 2016.
The top order batsman, then 19, topped 1,000 Specsavers County Championship runs for the Red Rose county in 2016, including record breaking twin centuries in a Roses draw, and earned a call-up to open the batting alongside Sir Alastair Cook in India.
He scored two fifties in three matches, but his tour was ended early by a broken finger.
In the two years since, he has averaged just 18.58 across 52 first-class innings for Lancashire and the England Lions with a top score of 88, also suffering another broken finger late in 2017.
Hameed is in the last year his contract with Lancashire, and director of cricket Paul Allott recently admitted the Boltonian was: “Hanging on by his fingertips at Lancashire”.
But affable Hameed, who spent large parts of the winter in India and New Zealand, amassed 218 against the students from number three in the order and looks set to face Middlesex at Lord’s in Thursday’s Division Two opener.
“When you’re going through a challenging period, everyone will tell you that it’s not easy,” he said.
“But you have to look for light at the end of the tunnel.
“I guess knowing that I’ve been there before and I’ve still got a lot of time on my hands helps.
“Also, knowing deep down I’ve still got that same mindset I had two or three years ago when I was coming into my first season of first-class cricket.
“At times it was tough, but there was still something within me that kept me pushing to keep coming back for more.”
Hameed spent time training in India and playing club cricket in Wellington this winter.
“It was good to get away and work on my game,” he said.
“India was more like a training opportunity to hit a volume of balls outside, then I played for a club out in New Zealand.”
Hameed worked with a number of different coaches and continued: “The common theme I got was to just back my game.
“Everyone felt my game was in a good place, which was nice to hear. And that came from people who I’d not met before. For them to say that, it was refreshing to hear.
“It was good to have that positivity. To hear that was reassuring.”
Hameed says he has made some tweaks to his game, but nothing major.
“I’m not saying I’ve just left my game as it was last year,” he said.
“I’ve made some changes, and I feel I’m an improved player because of that. But it’s not been wholesale changes.
“It’s a matter of looking into it, but not too deeply and not over-complicating things. It’s a hard enough game as it is.
“Sometimes you need a bit of luck.
“Alastair Cook is a great example. He got dropped early on in his innings (after wretched Test form in 2014) against India and got 95 at the Ageas Bowl. He never looked back.
“Every single experience, even if it’s not gone to plan, will hopefully help me going forwards.
“I’m still young, and the ambitions and aspirations haven’t changed. It’s still very much there. It’s just marrying all these experiences together.”
Middlesex drew their opening match against Northamptonshire at Wantage Road on Monday. Glenn Maxwell and Mark Footitt are in line for their Red Rose debuts.