The story of Harry Brook, the boy who helped Ben Stokes soak up the pressure in a World Cup final

When Jos Buttler fell in the T20 World Cup final, Pakistan must have felt the door was ajar and though they would have been wary of Ben Stokes standing in their way, as he would inevitably do, it was young Harry Brook who also wedged himself in the path to keep Pakistan out.

Buttler fell in the sixth over, and it might have been difficult for even Stokes if no one stayed with him then, but for the next seven nervy overs with the game on the line, young Brook bravely soaked up the pressure with a 23-ball 20 that would stay in his memory for a long time.

It’s cute that it was Brook who helped Stokes steady himself in the pressure of the chase as on the eve of a Test against South Africa earlier this year, when Stokes was asked about the newbie, he would first offer “huge talent”, “one for the future” and then add a rider: “He’s a bit dumb”.

Brook would tell The Telegraph newspaper later that Stokes apologised to him right away in the dressing room. “I’m not very ‘school-smart’ but I would say I’m fairly cricket-smart. I’m streetwise, but educationally? Nah, I’m not very good. I’m shocking at quizzes.”

One man who wasn’t surprised at Brook’s little cameo in Melbourne was his childhood coach at his club, David Cooper. (“Short, sweet but so valuable, wasn’t it in the context?”).

It was the rain threat at MCG, in some ways, that had convinced Cooper (we started to speak when Brook had just come to the crease in the final) that he would contribute.

Harry Brook with his England Test cap. (Credit: David Cooper, Harry Brook’s coach)

It was a sight in the rain when Brook was about 14 that convinced Cooper that his boy was made of something special. He was talented but word went around that he was unfit and word would reach his ears that unless he did something about it and improved his fielding, county cricket might prove elusive.

“On a dark wet October day, I peeped over the fence, into the club, and what did I see? Young Harry running around the ground, finishing his laps with push-ups and stuff, and then running again. For a month, in that wet month, he was out there doing his stuff. You tell me, how many 14-year-olds would do that?” Cooper asks rhetorically.

If one needs a piece of real estate to pin down Brook’s story, one can choose two places: His back garden that overlooks his club, and a small bench at Burley-in-Wharfedale Cricket Club.

The garden often has a Brook T-shirt hanging out to dry. Jersey number 88, hanging upside down from Yorkshire, Lahore Qalandars, Northern Superchargers, Hobart Hurricanes.

Ilkely Grammar School, winners of the Yorkshire Post Schools Cricket Championship at Headingley Carnegie. (Credit: David Cooper, Harry Brook’s coach)

The bench was built by his late grandfather Tony, a club player and a wood-worker, who had his sons – David, Richard and Nick – all playing for the club. David is Harry’s father and it was Tony, Cooper says, who brought young Harry to the club, and would throw down balls for hours. Tuk, tuk, tuk …

“These days when he comes to the club to watch cricket, Harry sits on that bench. It somehow feels wholesome, sweet, if you know what I mean,” Cooper says.

Early promise

The first time Cooper saw Brook with a cricket bat was when the kid was 2 or 3. “He would hold it with his bottom-hand on top of the handle! But he would connect it properly; had marvellous hand-eye coordination. But he was pretty stubborn and won’t change it until his grandfather gently coaxed him,” Cooper laughs.

Around the time, he lost his chubby weight, slogging hard in the rain, and would secure a scholarship to the prestigious private school Sedhburg which has produced rugby internationals and was developing a reputation for cricketers. “It was a big moment in his life. Perhaps had he not gone there, he would have been like other kids practising on weekends and playing a bit in the evenings. But the school encouraged talented sportspeople, and he would play cricket a lot,” Cooper says.

Harry scored 109 off 54 balls for Ilkley Grammar School which won the Yorkshire Schools Under-13 cup at Headingley. (Credit: David Cooper, Harry Brook’s coach)

He says that Harry would run into former Durham and Sussex wicketkeeper Martin Speight at the school and improve his batting. “Speight would start his cricketing nets pretty early, about 6 am, but Harry was always there every morning.” Speight would be moved to tell hockey coach Mark Shopland if he ever bet on a kid playing for England, place it on Brook . Shopland, apparently, did put a 100 pounds on Brook at 100-1. It was under Speight’s advice that after a below-par county season, Brook added a trigger movement at the crease in 2019/20 that saw his averages jump over 50.

In the T20 series in Pakistan, just ahead of the World Cup, Brook starred with a few good knocks, a 35-ball 81 being the highlight. Mark Wood would compare him with AB de Villiers to the press and would later tell Brook not to let him down after that comparison. “I used to love watching him bat but I want to be the best Harry Brook though. I don’t want to be somebody else,” he would tell The Telegraph. “I want to do as well as I can do and play the way I want to.”

It’s ironic that the batsman making his name in T20 cricket loves ‘the perfect forward defensive’ shot.

Cooper said he laughed when he heard Brook say that in a recent interview. “I remember I told him once that to grow as a cricketer and make a name for himself against tougher bowling attacks, he needed a good solid forward defensive. And we would be there at the side of the club nets for hours, polishing his forward defensive. That’s what I was taught when I was young,” says Cooper who once slammed an attack led by India’s Madan Lal for a strokeful hundred for the club with 11 fours and four sixes. “This was a week after Madan Lal had bowled out England for about 120!”

Harry Brook in action in at the Yorkshire Schools Under-13 cup at Headingley. (Credit: David Cooper, Harry Brook’s coach)

High praise

In his column, Kevin Pietersen wrote this September: “He (Brook) is the future, in my opinion. He’s got all the shots and can play in so many different circumstances. Keeps it very simple, but just the way he bats makes it hard. People who can pull you from the top of the stumps are hard work because that’s obviously where you’re trying to bowl it. And he knows his game, so because he’s in the middle order, he’ll make sure he is in at the end, and then he goes, and because he ramps, you have to have fine-leg back so you’re effectively playing with four fielders, because then he won’t play it, and he hits it wide, so he’s very hard work, and I’ll keep telling him that until he stops.”

Former England captain Nasser Hussain too has been a vocal supporter, calling for his inclusion in the World Cup squad. “Harry Brook is just going to be a superstar in all formats, he really is. His run-getting over the last couple of years at Yorkshire has been prolific and I think it will continue to be.”

Cooper doesn’t need any convincing, of course. For a man who first saw Brook bat when he was 2 and has been following his career for years, he is already over the moon with his performance at the World Cup.

“So good… a lot of people would not expect to be winning the World Cup at 23, but we’ve shown the world how good we are tonight,” Brook would say at the end.
“There is a lot more. As KP and Nasser have said, the cricketing world is going to see him star in Tests as well,” says Cooper. Brook’s grandma will be hanging in her clothesline the famous T20 World Cup winning jersey. And Cooper adds, “Hopefully, an Ashes jersey, soon”.

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