WELLINGTON — Better than Don Bradman. The sample size may be small, but Harry Brook’s stunning start to his Test career is already stacking up very favourably against the Australian great.
The Yorkshireman, who turned 24 two days before the start of this second and final Test against New Zealand, struck a quite magnificent century on day one in Wellington to dig England out of an early hole with an innings that once again sent the statisticians scrambling for the record books.
This innings, unbeaten on 184 before rain prematurely halted the first day, was undoubtedly the finest of Brook’s four Test centuries so far given it began when his team were rocking on 21 for three.
England were sent in on a spicy pitch that was so green it would have made a leprechaun blush, with New Zealand captain Tim Southee and the returning Matt Henry, on paternity leave for the first Test, removing England’s top three inside seven overs.
At this stage England’s new, uber-positive approach with the bat seemed completely inappropriate for the conditions, but Brook belied those fears to start his innings aggressively.
For once, he wasn’t ever in danger of breaking Gilbert Jessop’s 76-ball record for the fastest England Test century, but he did start sizing up some other special landmarks as he went through the gears during an unbroken 294-run partnership with Joe Root, who brought up his first century in eight Tests.
Yet this day was all about Brook, a player who is already shaping up to be an all-time great.
This was his fourth century in his sixth Test, a fast start matched by Bradman. Yet Brook only needed nine innings to get there as opposed to “The Don’s” 11.
To put it into perspective a selection of other England greats took far longer to score four Test hundreds, with Sir Alastair Cook (12 matches), Pietersen (13), Root (18) and Graham Gooch (30) all slower than Brook, whose three centuries in Pakistan before Christmas laid the foundation for England’s 3-0 whitewash.
The great Herbert Sutcliffe also took just nine innings to reach four hundreds and it seems entirely appropriate that the Yorkshire legend lived just 13 miles away from Brook’s hometown of Burley.
Perhaps the most eye-popping statistic is that Brook has more runs – 807 and counting – than anyone in history after nine innings, smashing the previous record of 798 set by India’s Vinod Kambli and way ahead of Bradman’s 476 runs at that same stage.
Brook’s average at the end of day one was 108.87 and although it is expected to drop below Bradman’s 99.94 when he is out in this innings – assuming he is out – his current form is simply astounding.
There is more to Brook, though, than the raw statistics. He is such a special player, with Yorkshire batting coach Ali Maiden tellingi last May that the key to his upturn has been the way he has tightened up his defence, giving him a solid base on which to build his expansive style.
That was in evidence on Friday when he walked to the crease in the toughest of circumstances but found a way to assert himself with a controlled aggression that wrested back the momentum for England.
Brook struck 10 fours as he raced to 50 in 52 balls. There was a let-off on 58 when he inside edged Daryl Mitchell close to his stumps. But there was no looking back after that.
His first six came 36 minutes into the afternoon session when he launched Mitchell’s medium pace straight over his head. He again cleared the ropes the very next ball to move onto 75.
By the time Brook reached 80 off 88 balls, Root was on 33 from 94.
The thing that makes Brook so good is that among the brutality, there are also breath-taking classical cricket shots, like the glorious straight drive off Henry that moved him onto 86 and the cover drive off spinner Michael Bracewell that followed in the next over.
Brook was racing towards England’s second-fastest Test double hundred by the time the rain forced an early finish. And he admitted afterwards this was his best innings yet. “Yes, definitely,” he said. “We lost three early wickets which wasn’t ideal but I came out and tried to counter-punch and be as positive as I could be and thankfully it came off.”
On averaging more than 100, Brook added: “I’m sure it’ll come down very quickly. Like I’ve said a few times now, I’m just trying to enjoy the moment and live in what’s happening at the minute.”