Harry Brook: The making of England’s new batter

Harry Brook
Harry Brook will make his England Test debut against South Africa on Thursday
Venue: The Kia Oval Dates: 8-12 September Start time: 11:00 BST
Coverage: Ball-by-ball Test Match Special commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra, BBC Radio 4 LW, and BBC Sport website & app. Live text commentary & in-play clips on BBC Sport website & app

Pauline Brook’s washing line is kept busy by her grandson, Harry.

The garden that overlooks Burley-in-Wharfdale Cricket Club often has a Brook shirt hanging out to dry.

Yorkshire, Northern Superchargers, Hobart Hurricanes, Lahore Qalanders. There is an England Test shirt on the way, too.

“She loves doing my washing,” says Brook. “If she ever says she doesn’t like it, she’s lying.

“She’s been on holiday recently, so I might have some smelly kit going around.”

It was at Burley where Brook’s journey to becoming England men’s Test cap number 707 began.

His late grandfather Tony, Pauline’s husband, was a club stalwart. Today there is a bench at the ground bearing his name. Tony’s sons – David, Richard and Nick – all played. David is Harry’s father.

“Come rain or shine, I was in the nets with my dad, grandad and uncles,” says Brook, who will make his Test debut batting at number five in the series decider against South Africa at The Oval which begins on Thursday.

The 23-year-old right-hander is every inch the modern batter. Already a globe-trotting franchise star with four Twenty20 international caps to his name, he is also enjoying the best red-ball summer of his life.

Averaging more than 100, three of his seven first-class hundreds have come this year. He was only denied a fourth because the 140 he made for England Lions against the touring South Africans was in a game not afforded first-class status because it featured more than 11 players per side.

An opener as a youngster, Brook oozes with the aggression that characterises the new England team. He has attacking options through 360 degrees and there is a hint of Kevin Pietersen about his batting.

Back at Burley, Brook started out holding the bat the wrong way.

“The young Harry Brook, two or three years of age, held the bat with the bottom hand at the top and vice versa,” says Burley coach David Cooper.

“Despite that, he still hit the ball. He had a marvellous eye and appetite for hitting balls.”

Brook was scoring half-centuries in the men’s second and third teams at 13 and was playing in the first XI at 14. By then he had secured a scholarship to the prestigious Sedbergh School in Cumbria, historically known for producing rugby internationals and with a growing reputation for cricket.

At that point, Brook, who has admitted to carrying a few extra pounds as a youngster, had committed to going the extra mile in pursuit of a career in cricket.

“Before he went to Sedbergh, he was told he wouldn’t make a county cricketer because he couldn’t field. He was carrying a bit of extra weight,” says Cooper.

“So he put his mind to it. I looked over the fence one dark, wet evening and I saw him running up and down the field, then dropping to the ground for press-ups and sit-ups.”

The fitness work continued at Sedbergh, two hours a week with an athletics coach, but it was under the tutelage of former Sussex and Durham wicketkeeper Martin Speight that Brook honed his batting skills.

“From the second day of September term, every day Monday to Friday I start in the nets at 6.20am,” says Speight. “He trained every single morning.

“I told one of my best friends, the hockey coach Mark Shopland, if you’re ever putting a bet on a lad to play for England, put it on this lad. He did, he put £100 on him at 100-1.”

In year 10, Brook hit six sixes in one over. By the time he was in the sixth form he had made his debut for Yorkshire’s first team.

Despite his loftier sporting ambitions, Brook still wanted to take part in a Sedbergh rite of passage, the Wilson Run – a 10-mile race across the Cumbria fells that has been held since 1891.

“He came back from an England Under-19s tour to India with a broken hand but still wanted to do the Wilson Run,” says Speight, who will be at The Oval on Thursday after being invited by Brook.

“He completed it in about one hour 40 minutes – through rivers and up and down fells. That is a fantastic effort.”

A further stage in Brook’s cricketing education came in Sydney’s notoriously tough grade cricket competition with the University of New South Wales, the former club of Australia internationals Michael Slater, Geoff Lawson and Dan Christian.

Living on campus for the 2018-19 season, Brook “had a good time and enjoyed the uni life”, according to team-mate Hayden McLean.

“He would offer his place up as a place to kick on and have a few beverages after a night out, but it was a one-bedroom dorm,” says McLean.

“We said ‘mate, you can’t have five or six of us back there for drinks, it’s not a palace’.”

Brook enjoyed himself on the field, too, averaging more than 60 with the bat.

“Even as an opener, he used to advance down the wicket a lot,” says McLean. “He made a hundred against Manly. At either end of our field there are hedges and I remember him dispatching fast bowlers back over their head into the hedges.

“They were calling him a selfish cricketer, saying he was just out there for himself. He was laughing it off.

“It wasn’t disrespectful, it was just someone who backed his ability. Some of the other English cricketers I’ve played against overthink it, but Harry had a really clear mind. He knew what his plans were, what he was good at, and he backed himself.”

Brook made his England debut in a T20 international against West Indies in January. Though he has only played in the shortest format at full international level, he has been a constant presence in Test and ODI squads and looks a likely multi-format international of the future.

He gets his chance as a result of Jonny Bairstow’s freak broken leg, fulfilling the prediction of current Test skipper Ben Stokes, who earmarked Brook as a future England player when they were together at Northern Superchargers last summer.

“There are things that stand out with certain players – the time they have at the crease, the shots they play,” says Stokes.

“It’s hard to put your finger on, but there’s something that puts them above other people who you see play.”

Not that Stokes is always complimentary about his new Test team-mate.

“He’s a bit dumb, but that’s what makes him such a good player,” joked Stokes. “I’ve been called dumb a lot too.”

Brook’s response?

“I wasn’t very good at school, but my cricket brain is all right.”

It matters not. Brook can let his batting do the talking, then take his washing to grandma Pauline.

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