Harry Brook learning tempo of ODI cricket is the key to England's rebuild

Harry Brook batting during England's dispiriting ODI defeat against West Indies
Harry Brook on his way to an encouraging 71 off 72 balls in Antigua - Getty Images/Ashley Allen

Harry Brook was the last man picked for England’s 2023 World Cup squad, only squeezing his way in ahead of Jason Roy after being omitted initially. And yet he might just be the most likely England player to appear in the 2027 World Cup: Brook will be 28, and should be at his peak in South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe. A new three-year central contract emphasises how integral he is to England’s plans in all formats.

As he emerged in the professional game, Brook was part of a new generation of English cricketers for whom the 50-over game emphatically ranked last. This was through no personal preference, but the realities of a saturated schedule. Remarkably, from May 2019 to January this year, when he made his one-day international debut, Brook did not play a single 50-over game. Of his 218 professional matches, just 28 have been in the one-day game.

For a man with a Test average of 62.2 in his first 12 Tests - made at a strike rate of 92 - and a centurion in the Indian Premier League and a T20 World Cup winner, cricket’s middle format should be an easy fit. Yet the 50-over format is not just a bridge between the other formats; it is also a game with its own peculiar rhythms and demands.

How to build an innings? When to attack, and when to be content to amass regular singles? And how best to exploit only four men being allowed outside the 30-yard circle - a situation that never happens in T20, yet exists for 30 overs every ODI?

These are questions that, even for a batsman as brilliant as Brook, demand playing the 50-over format. To master the 50-over game, excelling in T20 and Tests isn’t enough: a reality that Brook and England alike learned during the World Cup in India.

“I’ve struggled a little bit in this format at the start of my ODI career,” Brook admits. “I haven’t quite found the tempo of how I wanted to play, really.”

Brook’s performances in India - an average of 28.2 in six games, with a strike rate of 113 - both showed why the format is a good fit for his gifts and that his 50-over game remains nascent. In the opening game against New Zealand, for instance, Brook thrashed 14 from three balls off Rachin Ravindra but then top-edged the next ball to square leg.

No matter the suggestions of ODI cricket becoming akin to elongated T20s, the World Cup rewarded classical Test match skills, with bat and ball alike. To Brook, it emphasised, “you’ve got so much more time in ODI cricket than you think.”

Brook highlights two players who he learned most watching in India. “Virat Kohli obviously is the greatest ever ODI cricketer now. The way he went about it and the way he runs in between the wickets - any little thing he is just the best in the world, you watch him construct his innings. To watch some of the innings he played was ridiculous.”

Kohli’s extraordinary run of nine scores of 50 - including three centuries - in 11 innings in India, while scoring at a strike rate of 90, was a testament to how, with his technical prowess, placement and remarkable fitness, he can score with haste in the middle overs even while rarely scoring boundaries.

Heinrich Klaasen, who eviscerated England with a brutal century in Mumbai, was also informative for Brook. “Klaassen takes it deep, waits until he feels like he has a bowler and then takes them down,” Brook says.

When he returned from India, which extended a relentless schedule since breaking into the England team in 2022, “I probably felt like I needed a little bit of a break,” Brook says. “It wears you out. Obviously we didn’t have a great competition as well which didn’t help.”

Yet after a few weeks off, he was eager to go to the Caribbean. “I feel like I’ve got some things I need to work on in one day cricket, especially,” Brook reflects.

While England lost by four wickets on Sunday, Brook’s 71 from 72 balls at number five was an innings that made good on some of his World Cup lessons.

It was an innings in keeping with the ‘cruising speed’ that was England’s hallmark from 2015-19. When batting together in these years, for instance, Eoin Morgan and Joe Root scored at 5.9 an over and still averaged 60 - seamlessly scoring at a-run-a-ball without any recklessness. It is exactly the skill that England’s batsmen mislaid in India. Unable to rotate briskly, England were pushed towards taking dangerous risks.

Now, England need to regain this lost tempo. At number five, controlling the middle overs after the explosiveness of the top three and setting the innings up, Brook looms as the pivot in the batting order: a player with the versatility to thrive both when ODIs resemble shortened Test matches or demand T20 skills.

International attacks are already familiar with Brook’s qualities in Test and T20 cricket. The first ODI of England’s new World Cup cycle suggested that - with enough time to learn the peculiar demands of the format - he could come to be as feared in the 50-over game too.