In a winter where a T20 World Cup was added to England’s trophy cabinet and a historic series win in Pakistan has already been secured, it may yet be that the thing referenced most heavily in years to come is the emergence of Harry Brook.
Hyperbole? Possibly. And yet such thoughts certainly arose during an engrossing second day in Karachi as the 23-year-old finessed his third century of the tour with a sublime 111 from 150 balls. It was crucial, too, helping England to a first‑innings lead of 50 runs as they seek a first clean sweep on Pakistani soil.
By stumps the third Test had progressed significantly even if, with England due to bat last on a pitch offering turn and variable bounce, things were tightly poised. After finally bowling the tourists out for 354 in 81.4 overs – a total that also owed plenty to a cool 64 from Ben Foakes on his return to the side – Pakistan reached 21 for no loss at sunset, 29 runs behind.
There was little doubt about England’s man of the day, however – Brook striding off with a story to tell. There was a bit to unpack too, such as starting out on a hat-trick ball, breaking David Gower’s record for runs by an Englishman in a single series in Pakistan – 449 has now become 468 with an innings to come – or the slapstick mix -up after lunch that led to Ben Stokes being run out.
The latter was one of those episodes where two batters are standing at one end while the bails are being whipped off at the other. Brook was at fault, turning down an achievable third run as Azhar Ali pulled off a fine stop on the rope. Stokes, out for 26 after Brook touched his bat down first like a true Yorkshireman, was magnanimous enough to offer a thumbs‑up as he trodged off.
“I’ll have to serve him his dinner tonight and tuck his little towel [napkin] in as well,” Brook said after stumps. “I was a little lazy with my running – a bit tired to be honest. But it was my fault, I’ll take the blame. I was tempted to just leave my bat out and let him take it, but instincts took over.”
Shortly before tea the England captain was leading the celebrations on the balcony, Brook having punched Abrar Ahmed through cover for four to taste three figures once more. The right-hander had again played with such clarity and authority out in the middle, later revealing that watching videos of South Africa’s AB de Villiers batting on the subcontinent had paid off.
His stand of 117 with Foakes in an afternoon of spin turned 145 for five into 262 for six – 42 runs short of parity. And though there was still work to do once Mohammad Wasim Jr got the ball reversing after tea to remove Brook lbw, Foakes continued his deft work, while Mark Wood, 35, and Ollie Robinson, 29, delivered some valuable late swish.
Quite what Brook’s emergence means in the long-term is a source of debate, with England’s middle order set to be overstocked once Jonny Bairstow returns from his broken leg. As such, Foakes offering another reminder of his batting prowess – those low-slung hands so suited to Asia – was timely on a personal level, too.
That said, a decision here is not imminent with an England spokesperson confirming that February’s tour of New Zealand will come too soon for Bairstow. And as Brook put it so neatly in the press conference: “Most selectors say they like headaches, hopefully I’ve caused a very big migraine.”
The headache was Babar Azam’s initially, the Pakistan captain absent for the first hour as a result. And when he did eventually take the field, not everything that followed made sense, such as burning the last of his side’s reviews, ignoring all-rounder Faheem Ashraf completely, or leaving cow corner unmanned to England’s attack-minded lower order.
Still, his fielders held their catches as the well-worked spin pairing of Nauman Ali and Abrar finished with four wickets apiece, while his openers made it through to unscathed stumps. Babar could also hit the pillow overnight knowing a strong third day with bat in hand would still make things hugely challenging for his guests.
This was certainly the case when Brook first strode out to face a hat-trick ball in the morning. Nauman had trapped Ben Duckett lbw on the back foot for 26 and then inflicted Joe Root’s first golden duck for three years when the left-arm spinner found the edge of a tentative poke that flew low to slip. At 58 for three, still 246 runs in arrears, England were wobbling.
But despite a friendly word from Nauman, a canny old bowler with deft changes of flight and one whose career includes two seasons in the Bradford League, this particular Yorkshireman had an immediate answer, rocking back and punching through cover for a single to get his third century in four tests up and running.
Before this match Brook spoke of his relative comfort in Pakistan, a stint playing franchise Twenty20 cricket earlier this year furnishing him with knowledge of conditions and bowlers. He also insisted he was picking the mystery spin of Abrar with ease, a bold assertion to go public with one he soon underlined when, fifth ball, he launched him back over his head for six.
Picking Abrar is one thing but it still comes with no guarantees. Just ask Ollie Pope, who immediately after bringing up a sprightly half-century from 63 balls first thing was removed by a beauty that dipped, spun past the right-hander’s outside edge and rattled the off stump behind him.
Undeterred, Brook soon asserted his dominance over Abrar with another clean strike down the ground, however. The statisticians noted that this was England’s 88th six of 2022 – the most by a Test team in a calendar year. That it was secured by their rising star of this tour felt very appropriate.