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How Harry Brook became England’s new batter

Pauline Brook’s washing line is kept busy by her grandson Harry Brook. The garden, which overlooks Burley-in-Wharfdale Cricket Club, often has Brooke’s shirt hanging dry. Yorkshire, Northern Superchargers, Hobart Hurricanes, Lahore Qalandars. There is also an England Test shirt on the way.

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“She likes to do my laundry,” says Brooke. “If she ever says she doesn’t like it, she’s lying.

“She’s been on vacation recently, so I might have some stinky kit.”

It was at Burleigh that Brook’s journey to becoming England’s men’s Test cap number 707 began.

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Her late grandfather Tony, Pauline’s husband, was a club stalwart. Today there is a bench named after him on the ground. Tony’s sons – David, Richard, and Nick – all played. David is Harry’s father.

“Rain or shine, I was in the nets with my father, grandfather, and uncle,” says Brooke, who will bat at number five in the series-decider against South Africa at The Oval from Thursday. Hoye will make his Test debut.

The 23-year-old right-hander is every inch the modern batsman. Already a globe-trotting franchise star with four Twenty20 international caps to his name, he is also enjoying the best Red Ball summer of his life.

At an average of over 100, three of his seven first-class centuries have come this year. He was only denied a fourth as the 140 he made for the England Lions against the visiting South Africans was in a game that did not qualify as first-class because it involved more than 11 players per side.

An opener as a teenager, Brook swam with the aggression that characterized England’s new team. He has 360-degree attacking options and has a Kevin Pietersen touch about his batting.

Back at Burley, Brock starts to strike out with the wrong bat.

“Young Harry Brock, two or three years old, held the bat with his bottom hand up and vice versa,” says Burleigh coach David Cooper.

“Despite that, he still hit the ball. He had great vision and hunger to hit balls.”

Brooke was scoring half-centuries in the men’s second and third teams at 13 and was playing in the first XI at the age of 14. By then he had secured a scholarship to the prestigious Sedbergh School in Cumbria, historically known for producing rugby internationals as well as a cricketing reputation.

At the time, Brooke, who admitted to carrying a few extra pounds as a teenager, vowed to go the extra mile to pursue a career in cricket.

“Before he went to Sedbergh, he was told he wouldn’t make a county cricketer because he couldn’t field. He was carrying a bit of extra weight,” says Cooper.

“So he put his mind to it. I looked over the fence one dark, wet evening and I saw him running up and down the field, then dropping to the ground for press-ups and sit-ups.”

Fitness continued at Sedbergh for two hours a week with an athletics coach, but it was under the tutelage of former Sussex and Durham wicketkeeper Martin Speight that Brook honed his batting skills.

“From the second day of the September term, every day from Monday to Friday I start at 6.20 am in the net,” says Speight. “He trained every single morning.

How Harry Brook became England's new batter

“I said to one of my best friends, the hockey coach Mark Shopland if you’re ever going to bet on a guy to play for England, bet on this guy. He did, he did at 100-1. Put 100 pounds on it.”

In year 10 Brooke hit six sixes in an over. By the time he was in the sixth form, he had made his debut for the Yorkshire first team.

Despite his loftier sporting ambitions, Brooke still wanted to take part in Sedbergh’s rite of passage, the Wilson Run – a 10-mile race across the Cumbria Falls that has been held since 1891.

“He came back from the England Under-19 tour to India with a broken hand but still wanted to do the Wilson run,” says Speight, who was at The Oval on Thursday after being invited by Brooke.

“He did it in about an hour and 40 minutes – through rivers and up and downfalls. It’s a fantastic effort.”

Another stage in Brock’s cricketing education came at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, with former Australian internationals Michael Slater, Jeff Lawson, and Dean Christian competing in Sydney’s notoriously tough grade cricket competition.

While on campus for the 2018-19 season, Brock “had a great time and enjoyed uni life,” according to teammate Hayden McLean.

“He would treat his place as a place to hang out and have a few drinks after a night out, but it was a one-bedroom dorm,” McLean says.

“We said ‘Mate, you can’t put five or six of us in there drinking, it’s not a palace’.

Brooke also enjoyed himself on the field, averaging over 60 with the bat.

“Even as an opener, he used to go a lot further down the wicket,” McLean says. “He scored a century against Manly. We have hedges at both ends of the field and I remember him sending fast bowlers over his head back into the hedges.

“They were calling him a selfish cricketer, saying he was only out for himself. They were laughing at him.

“It wasn’t disrespectful, it was just someone who supported his ability. Some of the other English cricketers I played against thought more of it, but Harry had a clear mind. . He knew what his plans were, what he was good at, and he outdid himself.”

Brooke made his England debut in a T20 International against the West Indies in January. Although he has only played in the shortest format at the full international level, he has been a constant presence in the Test and ODI squads and is likely to feature in multi-format internationals in the future.

He got his chance as a result of Jonny Bairstow’s freak leg fracture, fulfilling the prediction of current Test captain Ben Stokes, who had earmarked Brook as England’s future player when last summer. The Northern Superchargers were together.

“There are certain things that stand out with certain players – the time they spend at the crease, the shots they play,” says Stokes.

“It’s hard to put your finger on, but there’s something that sets them above other people you see playing.”

Not that Stokes always raved about his new Test teammate.

“He’s a bit dumb, but that’s what makes him such a good player,” joked Stokes. “I’ve also been called very dumb.”

Brock’s answer?

“I wasn’t very good at school, but my cricket mind is perfect.”

It doesn’t matter. Brooke can let her batting do the talking, then take her laundry to Grandma Pauline.

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