England batter Harry Brook talks Ashes heroes, his upcoming IPL debut... and whether he could hit a home run in baseball
Harry Brook’s memories of watching Ashes series growing up are hazy. He did not watch much cricket on TV, because he was “always out trying to get in the nets, to play with my mates or my dad,” he explains.
He used to watch the DVD highlights of the iconic 2005 series, but was six years old when it actually took place. “I have memories of Shane Warne, all the big fast bowlers, and obviously Kevin Pietersen... but it was a bit early.
It is no surprise that Pietersen stuck in Brook’s mind. He is an idol for a generation of English cricketers, and the similarities between the two are abundantly clear: tall, aggressive batters, who looked at home in international cricket right from the start of their England careers.
Pietersen was an early advocate for Brook’s elevation to international cricket, having first watched him play for Northern Superchargers in the first season of the Hundred. They briefly crossed paths in January, when Pietersen was invited to an England training session in Bloemfontein.
“I used to love watching him bat when I was younger,” Brook says. “He always looked to take the attack to bowlers and put them under pressure. In that aspect, I’m quite similar.” Brook believes there are some technical differences - “he was very wide-stanced... I’m fairly wide, but he’s a lot taller than me” - but the shades of Pietersen in his presence at the crease are unmistakable.
Brook only turned 24 last month, but has achieved more than most England players do in their careers. He already has a T20 World Cup winners’ medal and four Test hundreds to his name, and will fly to India later this month to fulfil his INR 13.25 crore (£1.3m approx) contract with Sunrisers Hyderabad.
He has made international cricket look straightforward over the last six months, lofting in-to-out sixes over extra cover and pulling good-length balls over midwicket. But he bristles at that very suggestion: “I never like saying any cricket’s easy - nothing’s easy. It can soon bite you in the arse if you say something like that.”
He has only played six Tests, but Brook has already come to embody England’s focus on positivity since Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes took charge. He has scored at a fraction slower than a run a ball, the fastest strike rate of any England batter in the last nine months; his four centuries have taken 80, 137, 133 and 107 balls.
“I’m very lucky to have come into this Test side,” Brook says. “The way we’re trying to play, the positive brand of cricket we’re trying to play to entertain the crowd - it suits my game more than any, really.”
But he rejects the idea that he has set the standard for England’s more senior batters, instead highlighting his captain’s role. “I don’t feel like I’m leading at all: I’m just following orders,” he says, grinning. “Stokesy is leading at the minute: the way he’s going out and playing his cricket is so good to watch.
“It’s not like we’re just going out and slogging. There is method behind the madness. Obviously we’re scoring at a quick rate, but I don’t feel like I’m going to get out. I feel like I’ve been pumped up with so much confidence going out, I feel like I can do anything.
“And when we’re out there, we feel like we’re superhuman. Stokesy’s definitely leading from the front. There’s been a few dodgy dismissals, but if the captain’s getting out in funky ways as well, then it doesn’t really matter [if others are], does it?
“We’re trying to play this positive brand of cricket, and entertain the world. We’re trying to put as much pressure on the bowler as we can, and be as positive as we can. The more positive you are, most of the time, you put them bad balls away, even if they’re [only] slightly off line or length.”
Brook has been the busiest man in English cricket this winter, playing 41 days of international cricket spread across five different tours. He is one of five men to have appeared in all three formats for them in the last six months (Rehan Ahmed, Ben Duckett, Will Jacks and Mark Wood are the others) and time at home has become increasingly rare.
Bizarrely, and despite Yorkshire’s protestations, Brook only holds an incremental contract with the ECB; his international breakthrough came just too late to force his way onto the central contracts list for 2022-23, and there is no scope for players to be promoted to one mid-cycle.
He has already demonstrated his commitment to England, withdrawing from the SA20 in January in order to rest ahead of tours to South Africa and New Zealand, and pulling out of the ongoing PSL. And next month, he will be back on his travels - this time, to India.
“It’s the best franchise competition in the world,” he says of the IPL. “Everyone wants to play in it. There are a lot of good players there, and hopefully I get some opportunities to express how I’m playing at the minute - and show the world I’m capable of scoring runs anywhere.”
Brook’s Sunrisers coach is Brian Lara, whom he describes as “a legend of the game... I used to love watching him when I was younger”. He hopes to fulfil his childhood fantasies of facing bowling coaches Muthiah Muralidaran and Dale Steyn in the nets, too.
His most recent competitive match in India, for England Under-19s in 2017, ended badly. “I broke my hand... I punched a table after I got out,” he says. “Ever since then, I’ve just sat back down whenever I’ve got out, put my bat and stuff away, and cracked on.
“I’ve worked on that side of the game massively. To be a successful cricketer for a long period of time, you’ve got to be level-headed. If you’re up and down and all over the place, the game will swallow you up. [You] obviously enjoy the good moments, but there could always be a bad moment around the corner. So don’t get too high, or too low.”
He will have to cope with the pressure of a substantial price tag this time around, but insists that he hasn’t “even thought about it yet. I’m just trying to enjoy the time I’ve got at home... even though it’s cold, wet and miserable, it’s still nice to be here, seeing family and spending time with them.”
Brook delayed his return home by a few days after England’s second Test in New Zealand, instead flying to Florida. As part of a promotional tie-in with Major League Baseball, he joined up with the St. Louis Cardinals at spring training - though admits he struggled in his attempts to hit a home run.
“I was hitting into the wind... I wasn’t far off,” he says. “In cricket, I’ve got quite high hands when I’m batting but in baseball, they wanted me to get them above my head, nearly. It’s quite hard to try and do that. It was a good challenge.
“The technology was ridiculous. The ball’s thrown outside your body and I’m used to hitting it through point, but they had all the TVs and iPads up where I’d usually hit the ball. It was hitting it quite close to where all the expensive stuff was, so they were getting a little bit scared. The amount of training, technology and analysis they go into is remarkable.”
And did he pick anything up that might prove useful to his cricket? “A few things. Having a strong base is one of them... it’s similar to a golf swing at the end, your rotation of your hips and trying to use them for power. The lads there were stacked, they were massive, and they were saying all the power comes from the legs.
In his new role as an MLB Europe ambassador, Brook’s bats will feature a sticker of the league’s logo over the coming months - including in the Ashes this summer. His only experience of playing Test cricket at home to date was in his debut at The Oval, a “weird week” which saw the first two days lost to national mourning after the Queen’s death.
“I’ve said so many times that Test cricket is the pinnacle of cricket. There’s no better format at the minute, and the way that we’re playing the game, we’re bringing more crowds and people wanting to watch us more. It’s definitely going to be a great summer of cricket; winning or losing side, it’s going to be really good to watch.” –Cricinfo