Harry Brook: Who aimed big, failed and finally took off

Even though England's Harry Brook makes batting appear to be a blast, it wasn't always easy for him.

Harry Brook: Who aimed big, failed and took off
  • Sinchan Saha | March 29, 2023 | 1:51 pm

The past 12 months have been beyond Harry Brook‘s wildest expectations. a trophy from the Twenty20 World Cup; awards for his performance during England’s Test tours of Pakistan and New Zealand; and a deal with Sunrisers Hyderabad in the Indian Premier League for a whopping US$1.6 million. This is the third-highest fee an IPL team has paid for an England player, behind Ben Stokes and Sam Curran.

Image Source: Moneycontrol

However, Harry Brook’s rise to prominence has not been an easy one, as it has been with numerous overnight successes

In 2019, he was dropped from the Yorkshire first team and forced to fight his way back in by scoring runs for the second team after his daring attempt to fast-track himself into contention as a Test opener failed.

It was a rude shock. Together with Adam Lyth, a former Test centurion, he started the season as the opening pitcher; He believed it might lead to the elite arena. All things considered, a series of starts finished in him mentioning a drop down the request.

Andrew Gale, his coach at the time, was not going to bend over backwards to work the team around Brook, so he kept him out for about a month before bringing him back in. All of it was a part of Brook’s schooling.

“I learned a lot from 2019. I put my hand up to open. Galey wanted me to open as well, and I said I definitely want to do it because there was so much uncertainty around England’s opening batters at the time. I was only 20. The reality of me actually getting picked for England was very slim but I thought if I scored a few hundreds in the first few games, I might get a chance at Test cricket. It completely threw me off. I didn’t stay in the moment. I wasn’t thinking about the next game, I was just thinking about if I could play for England. So over the last few years I’ve worked on trying to stay in the moment, concentrate on the next game and prepare for the next game.” 

he reflects, when we spoke in Leeds this January about his story so far.

When Essex bowled a stellar Yorkshire lineup out for just 50 in their first innings in a bizarre championship game in 2018, Brook had already made a partial declaration of his abilities with a match-winning maiden first-class hundred. The 100 came from No. 3, to where he had been dropped in the wake of opening in the principal innings.

Brook, who began his career in first-class cricket at Burley in Wharfedale, a club in the Airedale and Wharfedale League, did not have the best of beginnings. He played only the one match in his most memorable season, 2016, in which he was out for a brilliant duck against Pakistan A. The next year he found the middle value of 13.66 from six innings in red-ball cricket.

He didn’t really improve after the 124 at Chelmsford in 2018. A top of the line normal of 25 that year, and 21.76 in 2019, was not conveying the substance that his ability, cultivated by numerous long periods of young life throwdowns by his granddad Tony, had guaranteed.

In Brook’s narrative, the turning point came in 2020. As he made the first steps toward consistency in Yorkshire’s Bob Willis Trophy campaign, he exhibited a greater level of dependability. He averaged 43, despite not having a three-figure score.

He describes a turning point as a T20 match at Headingley, where he and Joe Root both scored half-centuries.

“I used to try and power the bowlers and hit it wherever I wanted to and premeditate a lot of things. I can remember Rooty coming down to me every over and telling me to watch the ball, to play it on instinct, and we ended up chasing a total down.”  .

he says

In 2021, when he had 797 runs and made his first two hundreds in a season, the slope of his upward curve got a little steeper. That year, he played in T20s, scoring 695 runs and striking out at over 140. In addition to that, he scored 189 runs in five games for the Northern Superchargers during the Hundred’s inaugural season, which piqued the interest of franchises all over the world. After that, he had success in the PSL and BBL, and this year, he will most likely make his IPL debut.

Brook’s coach at Sedbergh in Cumbria, Martin Speight, who is also a former county wicketkeeper-batter for Sussex and Durham, believes that the way Brook has overcome a number of life obstacles has helped him build a foundation for success at the highest level.

He talks about having a conversation with England team psychologist James Bell, who called him to talk about Brook.

“They’ve been working with the players. They’ve been writing down lots of things, looking at what has created him [Harry] and two or three other young players, and then almost looking at [making them] futureproof. They were looking at a mixture of upbringing, young age, love of the game, a family that are obviously cricket-mad – the fact that he could walk out of his Nan’s back door and straight onto the pitch.” 

says Speight. 

As for the challenges, leaving Ilkley Grammar School, in the shadow of Ilkley Moor, was a real eye-opener for the teenager: 

“Sedbergh was not easy for him. He wasn’t a natural athlete. Academically he found it hard, and he was forced at school to do his work. He was doing things he didn’t want to do. He knew that if he wanted to make it, he’d have to stay there and board. He found that hard. He was a very quiet, shy lad when he first started. Although he was clearly a good cricketer, it’s all the challenges he had to face outside cricket as much as anything that have shaped him.”

says Speight.

Speight cites Brook’s failures with Young England as an 18-year-old and his poor second full season in county cricket as reasons for his current success.

“He went away after those disappointments and decided he had to work it out. He made the decision to start again himself. I didn’t ring him. He phoned me and asked me to help. He was determined enough to do that and he wanted to succeed.”

Brook continues to occasionally visit Speight even though he has worked with Gale, Paul Grayson, Ottis Gibson, and Ali Maiden during his time with Yorkshire.

“They’ve got a wonderful understanding and a connection, which I think is really healthy and Speighty probably knows his game as well as Harry does. Opening the batting has actually probably made him a better player and more equipped for him to go into the middle order. He trusts his defence a lot more now. He’s got such a solid defence and you need that to play first-class cricket, let alone Test cricket, but then what he also has got is the attacking game and a natural flair, which comes out a hell of a lot when he’s batting.”

says Lyth, Brook’s Yorkshire opening partner.

The Creek’s rewards for so much hard work during his initial a very long time in the five star game started to age in 2022. Now it seems like it was planned that Brook would blow everyone away with his own performance just as England’s Test fortunes were handed to Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes.

He had all the shots of a high-class white-ball game to call upon, and his profile looked just right for the new look. In Yorkshire’s disastrous championship campaign last year, he scored 967 runs at 107.44, scoring three hundreds and six fifties in his 13 innings.

“I think I probably fit the script fairly well. Just the way I play positive cricket, trying to always put the bowler under pressure.”

Brook suggests. 

Despite this, he had to wait until his countymate Jonny Bairstow’s bizarre golfing injury gave him his first chance.

His first appearance in a Test match, against South Africa, was more about the experience than the runs.

“I think the goosebump moment was actually walking out to do the national anthem,” .

he says
Image Source: The Indian express

“Because the Queen had died, we walked out and I’ve never felt or heard anything so silent. You could hear a pin drop. Then, obviously, as soon as we started the national anthem, it erupted.”

The fact that England won within two days has become part of Bazball legend. In time, it may become part of Brook’s legend that he scored four grand centuries in eight Test innings.

His magnificent Test-best score of 186 from 176 balls in the first innings of the Wellington Test this year was followed by his first wicket in a Test (New Zealand’s greatest Test run-scorer, Kane Williamson), but the cricketing gods reminded him of the rules of the game with a diamond duck, and he was run out in the second innings without playing a ball.

It’s hard to believe that this man played only 56 first-class matches before 2022, when he made his England debut, and had an average of just 28 runs per innings in first-class cricket.

“It’s been a bit of a stellar year. I don’t know if I’m ever going to be able to top it, to be honest. The last few months have been like a dream come true. The main thing was to come home with a medal and be a world champion.” 

he says.

Having seen his influential input at international level thus far, few now doubt Brook’s ability, least of all Speight.

“Back in school days, he’d come in on a morning, before lessons, and have an hour and 40 or an hour and 50 minutes, every day. He loves the game. He loves batting. His whole mindset is that if it’s not right, he’ll work and work and work to get his basics right before he goes on and does anything else. When he came to see me [in January] before he went to South Africa, he spent 20 minutes at the start just getting everything right. Then he wanted to work on pulling and whacking over wide mid-on, midwicket, back-of-a-length balls, which we worked on. Then he went back, had a couple of chats, then he had another 20 minutes going right back to the basics again.”

Since Brook began to shine in first-class cricket, these fundamentals have changed.

“When he was at school Harry stood still,” says Speight, who also works with other Yorkshire players.

“He didn’t trigger or have a pre-delivery movement. I made sure that his alignment was perfect and he didn’t twist out towards midwicket. We didn’t want his bat coming across the line of the ball. We did that every day for four years. If you look at his innings at Lord’s in 2017, against the likes of Steven Finn, he was fine [Brook made 38 in Yorkshire’s first innings against Middlesex] but over the next year or so he started coming out of alignment. His hips would open up and his shoulders would open more. A bit like a piece of fusilli pasta. His bat ended up sliding across third, fourth or fifth slip, and anything moving, he ended up nicking it or missing it. Even a straight ball on occasions. If you’re a fraction early, you’re going to end up nicking it. If you’re a fraction late, it’s going to go through the gate.”

He further added.

In 2018, Brook sought assistance from Speight. Some of the messages that the two of them exchanged provide fascinating visual and verbal insight into those technical changes.

“He sent me the videos from earlier in the year. We looked at that and decided he’d try using a trigger movement. He realized that if his head was in the right position and his trigger was right, he shouldn’t miss it, and that’s still the basis of his game. I watched the dismissal in the first one-day international in South Africa and his toe had gone an inch too far outside off stump. As a result his head got slightly out of line and of course, he played round it rather than hitting through it.”

And of his innings in the Wellington Test: 

“All that happened there was that he and Joe [Root, who also got a hundred] worked out that if they stood still where you normally would, one foot either side of the crease, there would be a ball with their name on it. So Brooky tried to move outside the crease. He was all over the place in terms of his starting point but his movement remained the same from whatever starting position he set himself and he was able to master them. It gave the New Zealand bowlers little margin for error, because when there was any width through the off side, he was so well balanced, he was able to deal with both back-foot and front-foot shots with equal precision.”

Speight says.

In the end, Brook’s willingness to put in a lot of effort, his faith in Speight’s methods, and his attention to detail have paid off.

“He’s just got an all-round game for both red and white that is absolutely perfect. I’m sure he’ll be an all-format cricketer for England for a long time. He’s got everything. The only things he can’t do are bowl and play football.”

says Lyth, himself a superb exponent at the top of the order in all formats.

When it comes to players who are having success, comparisons quickly emerge. Brook is exhibiting a batting aptitude comparable to that of Kevin Pietersen, according to Lyth and Speight alone.

“To me, he’s playing a different game [than] most people at the moment. Test cricket is not easy and he’s making it look pretty easy,”

Lyth says.

He also thinks Brook will face his biggest challenge yet this summer. 

“Ashes cricket is different, but knowing Harry like I do, he will relish that challenge. He plays pace bowling really well and he plays spin well, so it will come down to him making good decisions for long periods of time. In Test cricket he’s already done that, so for me it’s just a case of him carrying on playing as he is and he’ll be fine.”

Competence and effort alone are not enough to compete in elite sports. To ride the inevitable troughs that come between the peaks, one also needs to have a positive attitude. Brook, according to Speight, is well-equipped on that front.

 “He has an innate self-belief. He doesn’t look nervous when he walks out to bat, does he? So whether he is or he isn’t nervous, he trusts himself from ball one. To be successful, you have to have that. It’s what separates the best few players from the rest. When you look at Kevin Pietersen, how many times did people question his temperament? Yet look at what he produced. Harry will make mistakes, lots of them but if you look at his temperament, he doesn’t seem to have too much trouble getting in. If he gets in, he will score runs just like [Pietersen] did.”

In the dressing room, Brook says his former team-mate Gary Balance was someone he particularly looked up to and who helped him most of all. 

“I used to spend quite a lot of time with Gaz. We had loads of conversations. Stats don’t lie and his stats are probably some of the best you’ll see in county cricket ever. Just talking to him about how to score runs, how to convert those twenties and thirties into sixties and seventies and then trying to kick on and get big hundreds – I just picked his brains really, and tried to learn how he scored runs.”

Brook’s personal Manhattan may have begun as a collection of single-story buildings with occasional landmark structures, but now the skyscrapers are beginning to cluster. Taken across individual scores.

The individual break before his nation came calling hopes to have been ideal for him. England’s game also changed with him, especially in Test cricket.

“They’re making us feel like we can do anything when we go out there. We’re trying to put the bowlers under pressure but we’re not being reckless. We’re trying to soak up pressure in the pressure situations.”

Brook says. 

When Australia visits in the summer, there will undoubtedly be some of those, and it will be fascinating to observe how Brook and England handle them. It is almost certain that there will not be any dull moments.