THE OVAL — That maiden Ashes hundred shall have to wait. Pity. Harry Brook was the best of the England batsmen, priming us for the time when Joe Root decides his future lies in the commentary box with the cohort of former captains presently dispensing Ashes wisdom, and our hopes rest on yet another absurdly talented Yorkshireman.
One who knows a bit about the species, former Yorkshire and England captain Michael Vaughan, likened Brook to Kevin Pietersen for his capacity to transform the complexion of a contest. This he did after being dropped on five and twice edging dangerously through slip. He recovered to post an almost run-a-ball 85, the only batsman to pass 50. It was his fourth half century of this series, and the 11th occasion he has gone past 50 in his first 12 Tests.
Yet on a day when fast bowling orthodoxy reasserted itself, his exit 15 short of fable was emblematic of Bazball’s downside. Brook’s end, edging a rising delivery to Steve Smith at second slip, was self-inflicted. Perhaps this is the price of trying to pull stars from the sky. For those of us reared on England teams that would knock 75 runs tops in a session, 225 in a day, we’ll pay it.
Bazball feeds on confidence, of course. When Brook joined Moeen Ali at the crease, the Bazball concept was again under pressure and, as a result, under the microscope. Probed by the best attack in the world rejuvenated by wickets a seminal juncture was upon us.
Brook should have gone early, edging a routine chance off Mitchell Starc to Alex Carey, who was perhaps too eager to impress with a one-handed catch to his right when he might have wrapped two mitts around it. The good stuff, however, was exhilarating, the result of preternatural hand-eye coordination that allows Brook to get on top of the shot early and bash through the line of the ball with devastating consequences.
Starc went for two fours and a six from the last three deliveries of his eighth over, the balls finding, then clearing the rope with increasing ferocity. Marsh was lucky. He went for a four and a six only, the latter a short-arm stab over mid-wicket that Jonny Bairstow would have been proud to own.
England were going along at a fair clip, five an over, yet never quite getting ahead in the game. As we saw in the opening two Tests, England’s scoring rate worked against them since it allows Australia all the time they need to compile runs at a conventional rate.
The outcome was the more frustrating since Australia did not have to do that much to break through. Only Zak Crawley, squared up by a quick one from Pat Cummins, and Ben Stokes, the victim of a swinging, full-length murder ball from Mitchel Starc, were blameless.
In a world of “what ifs” England would have been better rewarded for the enterprising cricket they have played. Those two defeats at Edgbaston and Lord’s might yet prove worth the disappointment should England learn to temper ambition with judgment.
Brook is clearly suited to Bazball culture, a batter naturally inclined towards the doctrine, and central to England’s future. Those for whom Test cricket remains the ultimate expression of the sport should be grateful to have Brook as a disciple. He has already eschewed the idea he might be seduced by the riches of franchise cricket and is expected to sign a new, multi-year deal with the England & Wales Cricket Board in the autumn to keep him out of the clutches of the Indian Premier League.
Brook collected £1.35m for his first exposure to the IPL with the Sunrisers Hyderabad, and repaid them with the maiden century of this season’s competition. The England contract will cover all formats but will prioritise Test cricket in keeping with his belief in the primacy of long form cricket.
He would still be free to play in the IPL, which, as the most lucrative competition in the game, is played in a designated window free of schedule clashes. But his multi-year commitment would be to England, not the IPL and its coming franchise concept.