Harry Brook was named a Wisden Cricketer of the Year for 2023. Simon Wilde’s piece on Brook originally appeared in the 2024 edition of Wisden Cricketer’s Almanack.

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The Five Cricketers of the Year represent a tradition that dates back in Wisden to 1889, making this the oldest individual award in cricket. The Five are picked by the editor, and the selection is based, primarily but not exclusively, on the players’ excellence in and/or influence on the previous English season. No one can be chosen more than once.

Not since Kevin Pietersen has an England batsman burst on the scene with such disruptive brilliance as Harry Brook. His early Test appearances were so remarkable that the team were reconfigured to ensure he kept his place when Jonny Bairstow returned from injury – with Ben Foakes dropped, and Bairstow restored as regular wicketkeeper. Brook later forced his way into the 50-over World Cup squad, and in December finished off a T20 in Grenada in breathtaking style, with 31 not out from seven balls.

Between his Test debut in September 2022 and the end of 2023, no one scored more international runs at a higher strike-rate than Brook’s 2,067 at 101. Those runs included influential contributions to England’s two Ashes wins. Asked about Ben Stokes’s observation that he is not frightened of any bowler, Brook replies: “I don’t think that’s my personality. I never back down. I always try and win games, even from ridiculous situations. I’ll put the team first. It doesn’t matter who’s bowling at me: I take them on.”

His instinctive clean-hitting was evident so early that he was only a few years old when his grandfather Tony placed sizeable bets on him playing for Yorkshire and England. Tony would not live to cash in, which left the task to his widow, Pauline. “My grandma likes to keep it this massive secret, but I know there was a bet, and she got the money,” says Brook. “I think she shared it out.”

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HARRY CHERRINGTON BROOK was born in Keighley on February 22, 1999, into a family steeped in cricket and, especially, the Burley-in-Wharfedale club, whose ground – ten miles north-west of Leeds – was situated at the end of his grandparents’ garden. While his father, David, and uncles, Richard and Nick, did battle for Burley, Harry would play on the boundary’s edge, or fill in his scorebook. “I used to be at training every Tuesday and Thursday, and watch every Saturday. After school, I’d be in the nets with my mates, or dad or grandad – anyone I could get hold of.” David’s 210 against Woodhouse in 2001 was a family best, mentioned by Harry when he reached 184 against New Zealand on the first day at Wellington. But he added just two next morning.

At 14, he had moved from Ilkley Grammar School to Sedbergh on a scholarship. It proved transformational. “I was a fairly fat kid, and needed some discipline. I knew I wanted to be a cricketer, but didn’t know there was more to it than hitting a ball. I was surrounded by people who wanted to be professional athletes, doing stuff amazingly, and you’re like: ‘Why can’t I do that?’ I started working hard on every aspect of life.” In Martin Speight, the former Sussex and Durham batsman who taught cricket at Sedbergh, he found a kindred spirit, the pair rising at 6am for two hours of nets. Speight remains a key adviser, his messages providing reassurance, and reminders of the basics.

Brook’s path to a first-class debut for Yorkshire in 2016, aged 17, was serene, but he found life tough playing shots at the top of the order. He struck his first century, at No.3, in a memorable win over Essex at Chelmsford in 2018, when Yorkshire rejigged their order after being dismissed for 50. But it was not until 2019 that he landed in the middle order for good, and not until 2021 – having tightened his defence – that he hauled his career average above 25. Few insiders, though, doubted his class, and he was surrounded by batsmen with Test experience. He learned most from Gary Ballance, “one of the best players at the club, and in the country”.

Brook’s returns improved, and eye-catching performances in white-ball cricket earned him a spot on England’s T20 tour of the West Indies in January 2022, between stints at the Big Bash and Pakistan Super League. Then the dam burst in red-ball cricket: his first six Championship games that summer brought 840 runs at 140, and a call-up to the Test squad. But Brook did not get a chance until Bairstow broke his leg, making 12 in a low-scoring decider against South Africa at The Oval.

For the Tests in Pakistan in December 2022, the pitches were true and the opponents familiar, thanks to his time at the PSL, and England’s recent T20 series there. As Stokes’s team ran amok in Rawalpindi, Brook plundered their fastest hundred overseas, from 80 balls, though centuries in Multan and Karachi, when England needed runs, were arguably even more impressive. (Sunrisers Hyderabad took note, and splashed out more than £1.3m, even if his first IPL produced little beyond a 55-ball century at Eden Gardens.) No England batsman had previously scored three hundreds in his first four Tests; in New Zealand, Brook made it four in six. He was disappointed to miss out on another in the Ashes, but hit a pivotal 75 in the chase at Headingley, then made Alex Carey pay for dropping him on five with an aggressive 85 at The Oval. Soon after, he responded to his initial omission from the World Cup squad with a record-breaking 41-ball century for Northern Superchargers in The Hundred. When he began the T20 series against New Zealand with 43 not out from 27, and 67 from 36, the selectors concluded he had to go to India.

Unlike many team-mates, he has not had to re-educate himself to play Bazball. It suits him and, with England, it is all he has known. His fifty against Australia at Lord’s showed his willingness to keep faith with the project, as he sought to bludgeon short balls through the vacant mid-on and mid-off. “That was a difficult pitch to bat on, so I thought: ‘I’m going to score as many as I can before I get out.’ I like to hit the ball where the fielders aren’t. It might not have been the best-looking fifty, but I got fifty. If you get out playing a different way, the management will be frustrated, but if you get out playing the way we want, that’s fine. There’s no need to second-guess.”