In Good Conscience

Teen duo live up to their fathers' hopes

Anyone over 20 years old, with still a hint of ambition to play sport for a living, might envy Max Verstappen and Haseeb Hameed.

They are the teenagers showing men how to drive in the rain, or how to compose an innings on a capricious cricket wicket.

"Well held, Max," came the voice over his intercom after young Verstappen came within half a metre of hitting a wall at Sao Paulo in last Sunday's Brazilian Grand Prix.

"Yep, heart beat a bit higher there," responded the Red Bull driver, before putting down the pedal and hurtling off after the next car to catch and pass on a circuit where the Autodromo resembled Aquaplano.

The audacity of youth. Verstappen, just 19, hunted down and overtook vastly experienced drivers as he drove his way from 16th to third for another podium finish in Formula One.

Sustaining those attributes, retaining the wonder of youth, going on for years and years to rank among the greats will depend on them long after they have emerged from the slipstream of their fathers.

That same day, in a different time zone and in hotter, drier, dustier conditions, Hameed was batting with remarkable patience in his first Test match.

Also 19 and the sixth teenager to represent England in Tests, Hameed helped his skipper Alastair Cook to an opening stand of 180.

When finally Hameed was out for 82, he was applauded by both sides back to the pavilion.

His timing and technique, his patience and know-how, and his competent defence mark him out as the potential partner that Cook, and England, have been seeking desperately.

Hammed is the 10th opening partner for Cook since Andrew Strauss, now England's director of cricket, retired in 2012.

Yesterday, the young batsman experienced the other side of fortune.

He outlasted his captain in the second Test at Visakhapatnam. But Hameed was then run out, betrayed by a bad call from the vice-captain Joe Root who called for a second run, changed his mind, and left Hameed stranded halfway down the track.

Cook had made just two runs. Hammed was on 13 when Root made the wrong call.

England was in collapse and will probably have to pin even greater faith on the slender shoulders of the new opener to try to save the game in the tourists' second innings on a turning wicket.

The fast and fearless Verstappen, the calm and composed Hameed. They give meaning to the old saying that if a man is good enough, he is old enough.

To be sure, Sebastian Vettel, now a former world champion, is no fan of Verstappen. The spin of the wheel comes around and goes around in sports so fast that it seems only yesterday (or yesteryear anyway) when Vettel was the thrusting young man taking his chances to spin around the world's F1 circuits faster than anyone else.

It is cruel at the top. Vettel vacated his seat at Red Bull last year to join Ferrari - a switch to an iconic badge perhaps, but at the moment not with a car as fast as the Mercedes duo, or even the Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and, yes, Verstappen.

When we eavesdrop over the radio calls during races, how often does Vettel (now 29) sound like an old-timer moaning about the daring young bull Verstappen?

The wheel of fortune spins faster than the wheels trying desperately to find traction in the wet at Brazil's Interlagos circuit.

Yes, Verstappen takes risks. Yes, he might very well come a cropper. Yes, he might end up taking out racers attempting to drive with due care and attention.

But isn't he also in a sense what this dangerous, compelling sport needs? Especially nowadays, when the carbon fibre cars seem safe if far from indestructible, the thrill of the chase is embodied when a young charger like Verstappen dares to go wheel to wheel - and to overtake - "old" campaigners in his path?

"The last time I noticed Max," said Nico Rosberg, the world championship leader, "he was facing the wall. I'm trying to figure out how he missed that."

We all are, Verstappen's dad included. Jos Verstappen, former F1 racer, described his boy's drive in Brazil as simply incredible.

The son surpasses the father, and as Hameed does something similar, we ask again the age-old question: Nature or nurture?

Just as Verstappen's dad (and his mum) diced with danger in fast cars, so Hameed's father Ismail Hameed imbued into his sons his love of cricket.

It began when he migrated from Gujarat, India to Bolton, near Manchester, 47 years ago. He worked in a Lancashire cotton factory before giving up his job to coach his youngest, and clearly most gifted son, full-time at cricket.

An opening batsman himself, Ismail Hameed, who grew up admiring the gritty Yorkshire and England opener Geoffrey Boycott, realised that his third son was born with hand-eye co-ordination, with dedication to train all hours. In short, with many of the traits that make a Boycott, or a Sachin Tendulkar, once-in-a-generation masters of their trade.

But there we go again. Is Hameed a force of nature, or the product of nurture, the willing recipient of a lifetime of guidance from a father handing down and refining an obsession?

It is early days. Verstappen and Hameed are high fliers at the start or, who knows, the early zenith of their careers.

The requisite gifts, they clearly have. Sustaining those attributes, retaining the wonder of youth, going on for years and years to rank among the greats will depend on them long after they have emerged from the slipstream of their fathers.

In that sense, they had fortunate beginnings. But as soon as a boy becomes a man (or a girl a woman) in sport, there are new mountains to climb to overcome everything from early fame and fortune to the overt jealousy of competitors.

And there may be, for all we know, faster, stronger, younger competitors already taking aim at them in order to dethrone them.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 19, 2016, with the headline 'Teen duo live up to their fathers' hopes'. Print Edition | Subscribe