England has kissed a few frogs over the years, but in a typical Wellington field that started out as green as Kermit himself came the latest evidence they’ve discovered a new middle-ranking prince in Harry Brook.
Not that the crown slips off the existing one. Joe Root recently questioned his role amid England’s aggressive resurgence and on the opening day of that second Test against New Zealand came the answer that seemed obvious to all but him: just be Joe Root. He built his 29th Test century here by putting his head down and batting easily, the milestone coming from 182 balls and seconds before rain brought stumps.
But when Root delivered his latest masterpiece at one end, cracking seven fours, pinching ones and twos in wing-heeled fashion and only towards the end pulling off the reverse scoop-party trick, Brooks made a remarkable start to his England career the other continued in a flurry of 24 fours and five sixes.
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The 23-year-old had gone into the middle early with England scoring a dangerous 21 for three after Matt Henry and Tim Southee got the red Kookaburra ball to rip off a felt surface at the Basin Reserve. As he walked away, he had 184 no more than 169 balls, his fourth hundred in his sixth Test game and undoubtedly his best.
The two Yorkshiremen had put up an uninterrupted fourth-wicket-tally of 294 to see the tourists hit 315 for three of 65 overs. This master-apprentice alliance was also a record for any English pair on New Zealand soil, surpassing the 281 runs shared by Graham Thorpe and Andrew Flintoff at Christchurch in 2002. With root knocked out of his crease, Brook often stood low and so despite a surface that offered bounce and a bit of nibble, New Zealand’s lengths were thrown at times.
Test cricket is said to be a daunting arena, yet Brooks has already gone nine innings on more runs – 807 – than any other player in history and has a batting average of 99.38. His anticipation of a bowler’s intentions is quite impressive, and along with serious power, seemingly well-placed frontier riders still get beaten. As Root put it during this startling admission of his own insecurity last week, the boy who once claimed his wicket in the Headingley nets with dirty seams bullies international attacks.
None felt more bullied than Neil Wagner, who treats once-prolific left arm bouncer tactics – one that has delivered more than 250 test wickets – with contempt. Sometimes Brook just backed up and carted him baseball style, Wagner delivered nearly seven on overs and at one point was forced to place Kane Williamson right behind him on the rope for a bet on both sides.
Early in his work after England’s false start, Brook enjoyed a back-and-forth battle with right-arm Henry, who drove straight when full but also occasionally smacked the bat. The odd Duffed Pull Shot also landed safely. Otherwise, with a New Zealand batting lineup reinforced by one and asking Daryl Mitchell to send nine overs down at medium pace, it was one-way traffic within that roundabout of a terrain. Brook brought up his century of 107 balls in the afternoon, his 150 taking just 38 more.
“I’m sure it’s going to go down very quickly,” Brooke replied when asked about an overnight batting average of 100.87. “One of the things I’ve tried to work on over the past few years is to stay as level-headed as possible. There could be a bad moment around the corner. [Starting at 21 for three] I was a little nervous but I went out there and tried to be as positive as possible.”
It was certainly an ominous start for the tourists. Though New Zealand was chastised by last week’s defeat under lights at Bay Oval, New Zealand entered its spiritual home to the soundtrack of its World Test Championship triumph two years ago – Vangelis’ haunting conquest of paradise – and Southee now had a genuine new ball partner after them Henry’s quick return from maternity leave.
New Zealand greentops are not the same as in England, they play truer in the main, and the wind in this city is another complication. Nonetheless, Southee’s smile was wide when he won the throw and then as wide as nearby Evans Bay after destroying England’s top order. Henry, a fine near-medium whose 41 bowling average is misleading, showed no signs of fatigue from the early days of parenthood, Zak Crawley’s outside edge tickled behind on the two, and Ollie Pope on the 10 sent Michael a fatter one up Bracewell on the third slip.
Bracewell then caused a collective gasp from a sold-out crowd getting full value on tickets costing just NZ$35 (£17) for all five days, and dove to the left in full extension in the slip as Ben Duckett onto Southee came across nine. Think of Adam Gilchrist’s Andrew Strauss at Trent Bridge in 2005, when ‘The Beast’ was bullied by team-mates who suspected this return to daytime Test cricket could be an equaliser.
It was a false dawn, and after Root survived a lbw shout first ball, a session that started with three early losses ended with 101 runs on the board. Brook also brought his half-century to the point of lunch, leading one of Bracewell’s tepid off-breaks behind the court for a 10th four. As it turns out, England’s new prince was just getting started.