England were 21 for 3 when the young Harry Brook came in the 7th over to edge Tim Southee through the slips at the Basin Reserve, his only iffy stroke of the day. By the time rain intervened to help out New Zealand, Brook had smashed 184 runs, broken a 30-year-old record held by Vinod Kambli for most runs in the first nine Test innings (807 to Kambli’s 798), and only Gavaskar (129.66) had a better Test average than him after 9 innings. Just a matter of time, it feels.
In Southee’s next over, ninth of the day, Brook looted three fours, two square drives but it was the third that was startling. He charged down the track to wallop it over mid-on. Soon, he would repeatedly start moving outside the leg stump, and whack Neil Wagner wherever his mood seized. A pull, a thwack over mid-on, and one astonishing flat-batted crunch to the straight boundary.
On air, former England captain David Gower couldn’t but gasp when the second session started. A perfectly good length ball shaping away ever-so-slightly from Southee was tonked one bounce over long-on. Gower blurted out, “Oh my word!” a most perfect summation of the Brook devastation on show.
He already has three hundreds in Pakistan. Now, two in New Zealand and counting as it’s been raining tons.
It was a sight in the rain when Brook was about 14 that convinced his childhood coach David Cooper that his boy was made of something special. Brook was talented but the word went around then that he was unfit and word would reach his ears that unless he did something about it and improved his fielding, county cricket might prove elusive.
“On a dark wet October day, I peeped over the fence, into the club, and what did I see? Young Harry running around the ground, finishing his laps with push-ups and stuff, and then running again. For a month, in that wet month, he was out there doing his stuff. You tell me, how many 14-year-olds would do that?” Cooper poses a rhetorical question to this newspaper.
If you need a piece of real estate to pin down Brook’s story, we can choose two places: His back garden that overlooks his club and a small bench at his club ground Burley-in-Wharfedale Cricket Club.
The garden often has a Brook T-shirt hanging out to dry. Jersey number 88, hanging upside down from Yorkshire, Lahore Qalandars, Northern Superchargers, and Hobart Hurricanes.
The bench was built by his father David in memory of his own father Tony, a club player and a wood maker, who had his sons David, Richard, and Nick all playing for the club. It was Tony, Cooper says, who brought young Harry to the club and would throw down for hours. Tuk, tuk, tuk …
“These days when he comes to the club to watch cricket, Harry sits on that bench. It somehow feels wholesome, sweet, if you know what I mean,” Cooper says.
The first time when Cooper saw Harry with a cricket bat was when the kid was 2 or 3. “He would hold it with his bottom hand on top of the handle! But he would connect it properly; had marvellous hand-eye coordination. But he was pretty stubborn and won’t change it until his grandfather gently coaxed him,” Cooper laughs.
Cooper says that Harry would run into former Durham and Sussex wicketkeeper Martin Speight at the prestigious Sedhburg school and improve his batting. It was under Speight’s advice that after a below-par county season, Brook added a trigger movement at the crease in 2019/20 that saw his averages jump up over 50.
Speight would be moved to tell the hockey coach Mark Shopland that if he ever bet on a kid playing for England, place it on Harry. Shopland, apparently, did put a 100 pounds on Harry at 100-1.
It’s ironic that the batsman who plays Test cricket as if it were a T20 loves ‘the perfect forward defensive’ shot.
Cooper laughed when he heard Harry say that in a recent interview. “I remember I told him in order to make a name for himself against tougher bowling attacks, he needed a good solid forward defence. And we would be there at the side of the club nets for hours, polishing his forward defence. That’s what I was taught when I was young,” says Cooper.
In his Betway column, Kevin Pietersen wrote last September: “He is the future, in my opinion. He’s got all the shots.” Nasser Hussain, too, has been a vocal supporter. “Harry Brook is just going to be a superstar in all formats, he really is.”
Cooper doesn’t need any convincing of course. For a man who first saw Harry bat when he was 2, he is convinced greatness awaits. “There is a lot more. As KP and Nasser have said, the cricketing world is going to see him star in Tests.” He certainly has started off like a runaway express.