England has kissed a few frogs over the years, but in a typical Wellington field, which started out as green as Kermit himself, has come the latest evidence that, in Harry Brook, they have discovered a new middle-order prince.
Not that the crown is slipping off the existing one. Joe Root has recently questioned his role amid England’s aggressive resurgence and on day one of this second Test against New Zealand came the answer that seemed obvious to everyone but him: just be Joe Root. He built his 29th Test century here by putting his head down and simply batting, the mark coming from 182 balls and seconds before the rain brought stumps.
But as Root delivered his latest masterpiece at one end, catching seven fours, pinching one and two high-heel style, and bringing out the reverse party trick only at the end, Brook’s remarkable start to his England career continued into the other at a flurry of 24 fours and five sixes.
The 23-year-old had gone into the middle early with England a dangerous 21 for three, Matt Henry and Tim Southee having got Kookaburra’s red ball past a baize surface in the Basin Reserve. By the time he left he was on 184 not out of 169 balls, his quarter-hundred in his sixth Test match and unquestionably his best.
The two Yorkshire men put up an unbroken stand of 294 for the fourth wicket to see the tourists reach 315 for three from 65 overs. This alliance of master and apprentice was also a record for any English pair on New Zealand soil, surpassing the 281 runs shared by Graham Thorpe and Andrew Flintoff in Christchurch in 2002. Root batted out of his crease, Brook often went deep and therefore despite a surface offering bounce and a bit of bite, New Zealand lengths were thrown in at times.
Test cricket must be a daunting arena, and yet Brook already has more runs – 807 – than any player in history after nine innings, and he did so with a strike rate of 99.38. Your anticipation of a launcher’s intent is something, and coupled with some serious power, seemingly well-placed Limit Riders still get beaten. As Root said last week during that startling admission of his own uncertainty, the boy who once claimed his wicket in Headingley’s nets with filthy seams is intimidating international attacks.
No one felt more intimidated than Neil Wagner, the left guard’s once-productive safety tactic – one who had delivered over 250 Test wickets – treated with scorn. At times Brook would simply back off and carry him baseball-style, Wagner dispatching nearly seven over and at one stage forced to position Kane Williamson directly behind him on the rope for a bob-each-way bet.
In his work just after England’s false start, Brook had a back-and-forth battle with Henry, the right point guard driven straight in when he hit the ball but also batting away on occasion. The strange duffed pulled shot landed safe as well. Otherwise, with a New Zealand batting line bolstered by one and therefore Daryl Mitchell asked to send out nine medium-paced overs, it was one-way traffic inside this roundabout of a ground. Brook added to his century during the afternoon with 107 balls, his 150 taking just 38 more.
“I’m sure it’s going to go down pretty quickly,” Brook replied, when asked about a batting average that stood at 100.87 overnight. “One of the things I’ve tried to work on over the last few years is to keep as level of a head as possible. There might be a bad time just around the corner. (Starting at 21 for three) I was a little confused but I got there and tried to be as positive as possible.
It certainly was off to an ominous start for tourists. Though chastened by last week’s lights-out defeat at Bay Oval, New Zealand walked to their spiritual home to the soundtrack of their World Test Championship triumph two years ago – Vangelis’s daunting Conquest of Paradise – and Southee now had a genuine new ball partner after Henry quick return from paternity leave.
New Zealand’s greentops aren’t the same as England’s, playing truer overall, and the wind in this city is another complication. Still, Southee’s smile was wide as he won the toss and as wide as it was in nearby Evans Bay after sweeping England’s top order. Henry, an excellent fast midfielder whose bowling average of 41 is deceptive, has shown no signs of tiring from the early days of fatherhood, the outside edge of Zak Crawley tickled behind at two and Ollie Pope at 10 sending a thicker one to Michael Bracewell on third slide.
Bracewell then produced a collective sigh from a sold-out crowd who got full value from tickets that cost just NZ$35 (£17) for all five days, diving full left into the slide as Ben Duckett pushed Southee in nine. Think Andrew Strauss off Adam Gilchrist at Trent Bridge in 2005, with “the Beast” surrounded by teammates feeling this return to daytime Test cricket could be a leveler.
It was a false dawn, and after Root survived a first lbw shout ball, a session that started with three opening defeats ended with 101 runs on the board. Brook brought his lunchtime half-century too, guiding one of Bracewell’s tepid breaks behind the square for a 10th four. It turned out that the new prince of England was just getting started.