‘He knew what he had to do’: Harry Brook’s long road to England success | Tanya Aldred

England’s batting star has come a long way from Ilkley grammar and comparisons with another Yorkshireman are hard to avoid

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.

Harry Brook shouts during his T20 World Cup final innings for England against Pakistan
Harry Brook helped England to T20 World Cup glory with 20 runs in the final against Pakistan. Photograph: Surjeet Yadav/AFP/Getty Images

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.


Tanya Aldred

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Harry Brook has the brio and bravery to thrive in England’s Bazball era | Mark Ramprakash
Yorkshire batter, who will replace Jonny Bairstow against South Africa, has the sort of character you want to see in a young player

Mark Ramprakash

07, Sep, 2022 @5:00 PM

Article image
Harry Brook smashes 71-ball 97 as England pick up where they left off
Harry Brook was in fine form again as England raced to 465 in 69.2 overs in their tour match in Hamilton

Ali Martin in Hamilton

08, Feb, 2023 @9:26 AM

Article image
Harry Brook hits third century of tour as England edge into lead over Pakistan
Harry Brook made 111 as England rallied from a shaky start to earn a narrow first-innings lead before Pakistan finished the day on 21-0, still 29 runs behind

Ali Martin at the National Stadium

18, Dec, 2022 @1:04 PM

Article image
Harry Brook hits blistering century as England put New Zealand on back foot
An absurd 184 from Harry Brook and a classy century from Joe Root on day one against New Zealand have England on track for seven-straight under coach Brendon McCullum

Ali Martin at the Basin Reserve

24, Feb, 2023 @7:26 AM

Article image
Michael Vaughan denies using racist language: ‘That’s not what I am about’
The former England captain gave evidence to the Cricket Discipline Commission on a day when Azeem Rafiq was accused of playing ‘the race card’ by Matthew Wood

Sean Ingle

03, Mar, 2023 @7:17 PM

Article image
Ben Stokes proves captaincy is no burden after England’s summer of success | Ali Martin
Ben Stokes has handled the responsibility of leading England and their transformation with the best home season for 18 years has restored the public’s faith

Ali Martin

12, Sep, 2022 @5:00 PM

Article image
Ben Stokes’ success shows other sports captaincy risks can be worth taking | Andy Bull
Mavericks don’t often get the big jobs – Ben Stokes has shown everyone the value of doing things differently

Andy Bull

05, Jan, 2023 @8:00 AM

Article image
Matthew Mott wants England to have attacking mindset against Australia
Coach Matthew Mott has said England ‘don’t have the luxury of losing’ Friday’s crucial T20 World Cup group game against Australia

Simon Burnton in Melbourne

27, Oct, 2022 @11:21 AM

Article image
England should embrace batting first before facing ‘ridiculous’ New Zealand
Run chases are proving trickier at this T20 World Cup, a trend Jos Buttler should take note of before his side face the in-form Kiwis in a must-win match

Simon Burnton in Brisbane

30, Oct, 2022 @1:56 PM

Article image
Jofra Archer takes three wickets on long-awaited return to cricket
It took just three deliveries for Jofra Archer to remind the world of his wicket-taking abilities on his debut for MI Cape Town

Simon Burnton

10, Jan, 2023 @7:32 PM