Like many an England cricket fan, I’m delighted with Haseeb Hameed. In just three Tests in India, he appears to have solved the thorniest issue facing the selectors: finding a long-term partner for Alastair Cook at the top of the order, something we’ve not had since Andrew Strauss’s retirement over four years ago.
Hameed has batted with skill, aplomb and kid-glove soft hands in India. Crucially, he has the equable temperament and innate calmness that speak of an opening batsman perfectly suited to Test cricket. Let’s hope the injury he’s picked up in the current game represents just a temporary blip; because his is the England wicket all teams for the next dozen years will covet above all others. And he’s only nineteen years old.
It would be easy here to celebrate some of the teenage sporting talents who made an immediate impact and went on to enjoy long and illustrious careers: Serena and Venus, Jonah Lomu, Lester Piggott, Steffi Graf, Stephen Hendry, Mike Tyson, Michael van Gerwen, Jason Dozzell…
But I prefer to dig out a few youngsters who burned brightly before fading, offering them up as a cautionary tale to Hameed lest his level head become a big one.
I had a Shoot annual circa 1980. In it, there was a game in which you got to live an imagined football career, by way of a series of questions with binary outcomes. Choose the right answers and you’d rise through the ranks, become an England international and player-manager of your home town side as you guided them to the league title aged 29.
Pick the wrong path and your trajectory would bend ever further downwards, via a series of loan spells at unfashionable clubs*, before an inevitable early retirement and a life wassailing with the paraffins, barking at passing traffic and sharing dirty needles. Or, worse, appearing on talkSPORT.
Poor old (or still young) Federico Macheda appears to be on his way to a metaphorical seat next to Mike Parry and Adrian Durham.
In 2009, as a seventeen-year-old, Macheda made a sensational debut off the bench for Manchester United. With the game at 2-2, he found space between two Aston Villa defenders in the inside-left channel, took the ball and swivelled before curling a shot into the corner. That injury-time winner propelled United back to the top of the league and they went on to win the title a month later. Macheda’s crucial goal seemed to announce a significant talent to the world: big, strong, quick of thought and deed, a natural finisher.
Instead, the young Italian spent the next few years trying unsuccessfully to nail down a regular slot in Alex Ferguson’s squad. He had loans spells at numerous clubs – among them Sampdoria, QPR, Stuttgart and Doncaster – before finally fetching up at Cardiff City in 2014, signed by his former United reserve team coach, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. That contract ended this year and Macheda now finds himself, according to some reports, having to pass a trial at Serie B side Bari.
There but for the grace of Eric Gates goes…well, anyone who played that Shoot game.
*Worth listening to Lonely Tourist’s poignant Ballad Of Paul Tierney, which sensitively traces the unfulfilled career of the United full-back of that name: “The gaffer wants a word with you. We’re sending you on loan to Crewe.”
Tennis has had its fair share of youngsters who’ve rocketed to the very top only to fade quickly from the higher echelons of the game: Monica Seles, Michael Chang and Jennifer Capriati to name but three. But Tracy Austin is the pioneer of them all.
Precocious even in tennis terms, Austin had won the US Open twice before her nineteenth birthday, becoming the youngest ever champ in 1979 when still sixteen.
However, the early 80s saw her suffer from a series of serious back injuries as well as regular bouts of sciatica. She was the first professional sportsperson about whom I remember hearing the term ‘burn-out.’ By the end of 1983, the heavy schedule and chronic injuries had all but ended her career as a top-ten player. She wasn’t yet 21.
Austin was also the first professional opponent of one Steffi Graf, beating the German thirteen-year-old (thirteen!) in Stuttgart in 1982. Talk about passing the baton on to the next generation.
There’s young and then there’s ridiculous. Hasan Raza was fourteen when he made his Test debut for Pakistan in 1996. Actually, he might have been fifteen (there was some doubt over the exact time and place of his birth) but still.
Of all the people on this list, Hasan is the one whose fame accrues primarily from his record-breaking young age rather than sporting achievements. In that 1996 series against Zimbabwe, he performed admirably rather than spectacularly and was dropped not long afterwards, spending several years in the selection wilderness.
If he’s to be judged on his two Test innings of real substance, a pair of half-centuries against Australia in Sharjah in 2002-3 which were deemed to be too slow, that seems a little harsh given the pitches in that part of the world are rarely conducive to free scoring. That said, his Test career average is only 26, for all that he only played seven times, and he was unable to display much of the fluency for which he was renowned.
So he might have to make do with his role as a footnote in Test cricket history, the answer to a pub quiz question and just one victim of a Pakistan system that hasn’t always looked after its young players (just ask Mohammad Amir).
Mind you, Hasan is still only 34, the thick end of a decade younger than current Pakistan skipper Misbah-ul-Haq. Plenty of time…
Who are your favourite sporting teenagers to have risen and fallen?Reuse content