It was immediately obvious to the 30,000 fans at a sold-out National Stadium who witnessed Harry Brook‘s first half-century in international cricket that there will be many, many more to come.
Brook’s unbeaten 81 came off 35 balls and highlighted his power against spin and his precision against pace in an innings that even the partisan Karachi crowd stood to appreciate. His unbroken 139-run partnership with the inventive Ben Duckett took only 69 balls, enough to take the game beyond Pakistan’s reach and to reassert his status as the most promising young England batter of a generation.
Brook walked out for his eighth innings as an England player at 82 for 3 in the ninth over, a situation in which many young batters making their way in international cricket would choose to consolidate. Not Brook. He launched his fifth ball straight back over Usman Qadir’s head for the first six of the night, then charged down and lofted his seventh over extra cover for six more.
He had reached 23 off 12 balls by the time the spinners had bowled out at the end of the 13th, then found an extra gear against the quicks. He added 58 off 23 across the final seven overs, balancing crisp timing with superb game awareness and leaving Babar Azam walking off at the interval needing a double dose of aspirin.
When analysts send scouting reports to captains after studying opposition line-ups, they invariably include two columns next to each batter with a tick or a cross under ‘Scoop?’ and ‘Reverse?’ It is Brook’s scoop that enables him to be such an effective T20 batter, not so much for the shot itself but the way in which it opens up the rest of the pitch for him.
“You have to have fine leg back,” Luke Wood said this week, explaining why he rated Brook as his hardest opponent, “so you’re effectively playing with four fielders because then he won’t play it. He hits wide well, and you can’t follow him because if you get that side of him, he picks you up. You’ve got a very small margin for error to him.”
Brook only played one scoop in his innings, when Babar had dared to bring fine leg up inside the ring in the final over of the innings, but the fact the ‘Scoop?’ box next to his name was ticked meant there were constantly gaps for him to exploit on both sides of the wicket.
He was particularly punishing through extra cover, shimmying outside his leg stump to create room to hit the gap between cover and mid-off who were invariably up inside the ring, but also used deft touches to deflect boundaries past short third and took on the short ball against Pakistan’s three 90mph/145kph quicks.
“I’m just trying to play on instinct as much as possible,” Brook said. “If they go wide, I try and hit it over point; if they go straight, I’ll try and hit it over midwicket. I just play the ball on its merit.
“You get a gist of what they’re trying to bowl by looking at the field. If they’ve got four men out on the leg side, you kind of know they’ve got to bowl straight because if they go wide, it’s almost a free hit. I’m just trying to watch the field, but then play on instinct at the same time.”
Brook comes across as a happy-go-lucky character, epitomised by his initial confusion and then cheeky grin when Haris Rauf’s bouncer lodged in the grille of his helmet. But underneath his straightforward veneer, there is a calculated batter with a high cricketing IQ, constantly manipulating the field to his advantage. As Moeen Ali put it: “Brooky is showing how special a player he really can be.”
Brook has made it clear that he wants to play all formats for England – his red-ball pedigree is obvious from his strength playing orthodox shots – and he is the only player on this tour who was part of the Oval Test against South Africa. He spent the brief window between those commitments playing golf with his ex-Yorkshire team-mate Josh Poysden, who then drove him straight to Heathrow in time for the overnight flight to Karachi.
After a couple of training days, he started the series with 42 not out off 25 balls and 31 off 19, auditioning for a middle-order berth in next month’s T20 World Cup which seems nailed on after this masterclass. He has shown his ability against both spin and pace, and will be carded at No. 5 or 6, either side of Liam Livingstone. Brook is also an exceptional fielder, both in the ring and in the deep.
It was no surprise that his success earned him a warm reception, even as Pakistan’s seamers wilted. Cricket fans in Pakistan often claim ownership over players who have thrived in the PSL and Brook’s maiden T20 hundred – 102 not out for Lahore Qalandars in February – came immediately after an underwhelming Big Bash season.
Of course, he has made most of his progress wearing a Yorkshire shirt, even if they are unlikely to see much of him after this winter. With Jonny Bairstow likely to miss the Test tour to Pakistan in December through injury and Ben Stokes’ ODI retirement opening up a middle-order spot in the 50-over side, Brook could start the 2023 English season as a first-choice pick across formats.
As a former Under-19 captain and a consistent run-scorer in domestic cricket, Brook has long been earmarked as an England player for the future. Under Karachi’s Friday-night lights, the future started to unfold.