Martin Speight was coaching in the indoor sports hall when his phone pinged. It was a message from Harry Brook, fed up after his dismissal in the second Test at Multan. Brook had been out for nine, flailing away at bespectacled mystery spinner Abrar Ahmed.
“Fairs, but good lesson and you’ll learn because it’s you,” wrote back Speight. “Stay strong.” It was a prophetic back-pat.
In the second innings at Multan, Brook went on to make 108, crucial ballast in England’s 26-run win, and scooped the player of the match award. Another hundred followed in Karachi, as did a second player of the match award, and the player of the series gong. He also ran out his captain.
His Test record now reads: four Tests, three hundreds, one fifty, at the bold average of exactly 80 and a breakneck strike rate of 92.13. None of which is a great surprise to Speight, who first met Brook as a 14-year-old on a cricket camp, just weeks before Brook joined Sedbergh school in Cumbria, where Speight is director of cricket.
“I’d heard quite a lot about him,” says Speight, “and knew he was highly rated as a cricketer. The things I look for in a batsman are: can he play off the back foot and can he play off his pads? And he could do both.”
Brook came to Sedbergh from Ilkley grammar on both a sports scholarship and a bursary in year 10. Speight remembers a shy, quiet, very introverted boy – quite different from the man who now talks with some confidence in front of the cameras – though he’s retained his straightforwardness. He has also physically metamorphosised.
“He was one of the worst athletes I’ve ever seen,” remembers Speight. “Richard Damms [then of the Yorkshire academy] spoke to me about him. His one comment was: ‘Do not let him field in the slips, he needs to learn to run.’”
And so Brook did, dedicating two hours a week to training with the school athletics coach, until he was transformed. On top of that were hours spent in the nets. He grabbed the opportunity the school offered him, and never looked back.
Speight again: “He knew what he had to do, and he was metronomic in his practice. He was in the nets from twenty past six in the morning to do two hours before school. He’s very organised, he practises how he wants to play.”
The hard work paid off. Brook broke the Yorkshire schools record for most runs in a season and captained the England under-19s, averaging more than 100 in the 2018 U19 World Cup before being dropped as captain for the final game over a disciplinary matter (replaced, trivia buffs, by fellow Pakistan tourist Will Jacks). He earned his first full-time Yorkshire professional contract at 18, in 2017, just before making his Championship debut, though made slow progress for the first couple of years. In 2021, he caught the eye of his Northern Superchargers captain, Ben Stokes. “He just takes the game on from ball one,” said Stokes, while scribbling in his mental notebook, “he is not scared of any situation”.
By the spring of 2022 he was better with the bat than anyone in the country. He started the Championship season for Yorkshire, a side in turmoil after Azeem Rafiq’s revelations, with 101, 56 not out, 84, 77 not out, 194, 123, 41 and 82 not out, saving Yorkshire’s bacon in the Roses match at Headingley. He was called up to the Test team, but spent much of the summer carrying the drinks, until Jonny Bairstow’s freak golfing injury gave him his chance. He was player of the series on England’s T20 tour of Pakistan and also has a T20 World Cup medal, after playing in all of England’s six matches – albeit quietly.
It has been a whirlwind for Brook, whose Test debut was the most eagerly awaited for a batter since fellow Yorkshireman Root – who entered the Test arena 10 years ago. Speight sees similarities in the way they play.
“I think technically he plays in a very similar way to Root, both have the ability to bat long. Harry plays the ball incredibly late and, for an English batter, he is very good when he first goes in against spin. Look at Root, it is the same thing.”
What has changed is the cricketing world around them. By the time Brook made his Test debut, he had already played in the Big Bash for Hobart Hurricanes and in the Pakistan Super League for Lahore Qalandars, where he made the second-fastest century ever of the tournament. Aged 31, Root has put his name down to play in the Indian Premier League for the first time, 23-year-old Brook joins him in the auction on Friday. The higher base price belongs to the younger man.
It’s anyone’s guess what cricket will look like 10 years from now. Richer, probably; franchise-powered, possibly; more fragmented, definitely. His stellar progress suggests Brook will adapt with it. “He’ll have ups and downs,” says Speight, “and people will work him out but he’ll develop. He’s a lovely lad, a really nice, down to earth young man.” And one who happens to bat like a dream.