by Sam Blackledge
My two-year-old son has a pair of toy cars he likes to race around the living room.
We wind them up, set them down on the carpet, and shout: ‘On your marks, get set, go!’
They never make it to the other end. One of them will invariably fall down a hole, veer off into the sofa, grind to a halt or find themselves lifted into the air by a giant toddler hand.
Haseeb Hameed and Keaton Jennings are at the start of their respective cricketing journeys. Who knows what obstacles await them along the way.
So much of life comes down to dumb luck; cricket seems to take that theory and blow it up on a giant multiplex cinema screen.
What if Hameed had evaded the ball which broke his finger at Mohali? What if the damaged digit never properly recovers?
What if Jennings had not been on the Lions tour in Dubai? What if Karun Nair had held on to that chance at gully when he was on nought?
You can trace it back through the ages, and drive yourself quite potty.
Alastair Cook only made his debut in Mumbai ten years ago because of Marcus Trescothick‘s personal problems.
English cricket would be an entirely different place if Shane Warne had caught Kevin Pietersen for 16 on the final day of the 2005 Ashes.
And don’t get me started on poor old Athers and his half-and-half spikes at Lord’s.
Like Gwyneth Paltrow missing the tube in Sliding Doors, these moments have the potential to completely alter history.
But you need a bit of talent in there somewhere too; I can’t imagine Gwyneth’s reverse-sweep is much to write home about.
The list of England’s recent debut centurions – Trott, Cook, Prior, Strauss, Thorpe – suggests Jennings is on to a winner. But there are no guarantees.
Nasser Hussain used to talk about being choked with anxiety before walking out to bat. Flintoff, Gilchrist and countless others have written of sitting in the changing room in floods of tears while the game carried on around them.
In the bad old days, one poor performance or rotten decision could see a player relegated to the County Championship until benefit year. Thankfully, things seem to have moved on.
The England management appear to have got much better at taking the pressure off the players, allowing them the freedom to go out and “express themselves”, safe in the knowledge that one duff swallow won’t spoil a summer.
Young though they are, Hameed and Jennings will be well aware of the path they are treading.
Andrew Strauss, now the man in the suit doing the hiring and firing, still casts a substantial shadow over the non-striker’s end.
Many pretenders have come and gone. Most of them were given at least six or seven Tests to make an impression, and some made a decent fist of it.
We all have our favourites; the one who got away, the man who could have been. Personally, I still have a soft spot for Michael Carberry. Plucked from the toy box, wound up and placed on the start line, only to be thrown off course by a giant pulsating Johnson.
Sorry, where was I?
Oh, yes. The new kids on the block. Good luck to them. And remember: if you see the tube doors about to close, run a bit faster. You never know what might happen if you get left behind.
This piece was first published at Last Word On Cricket.