Harry Brook smashes 71-ball 97 as England pick up where they left off
It feels like tour matches have joined the kākāpo on the endangered list in recent times and where they still exist in the crowded international calendar, this England team appear keen to keep them short and sweet.
The tourists chose to halve their time in the middle before next Thursday’s day-night first Test against New Zealand in Mount Maunganui. A couple of two-day games against an “NZ XI” have become one amid a belief from Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum that if it lasts any longer, the fixture goes stale.
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It meant just one batting day before the main event but England displayed few signs of any concerns, picking up where they left off in Pakistan last December – or perhaps their recent time on the golf course – by racing to 465 all out from just 69.2 overs and then declining the opportunity to bowl under the floodlights.
As was the case against the Lions in Abu Dhabi in November – their previous warm-up match and similarly cut to just two days – Stokes opted out of playing altogether. Instead, the captain enjoyed a long net in the morning before play, bowled during the intervals, but chiefly sat on the sidelines watching others make merry.
This offered Ollie Pope the chance to further his leadership experience and Dan Lawrence a first outing since the Caribbean tour 12 months ago. Lawrence was among those to free his arms as 55 fours and 17 sixes were struck overall, his enterprising 88 from 55 balls at No 6 the quickest of the four half-centuries on show.
Joe Root, with 77 from 69 balls, and Ben Foakes, scoring his 57 from 74, also spent time at the crease, the former fresh from a spell of Twenty20 cricket in the UAE and bringing out another audacious reverse scooped six in a nod to last summer’s 3-0 win over New Zealand.
But there was little question about the headliner in Hamilton – the Lin-Manuel Miranda, if you will – as Harry Brook crashed a 71-ball 97 to roll over his form from Pakistan and underline why Sunrisers Hyderabad paid £1.3m for him in the latest Indian Premier League auction.
“Every little helps,” joked Brook, who recently arrived from the one-day tour of South Africa, regarding that price tag. “It took a while to sink in to be honest. It’s a dream of mine to go and play in the IPL but I probably wasn’t expecting to go for that much.”
On his knock, which featured five successive sixes off rookie leg-spinner Adithya Ashok including one that left the ground, he added: “My movements weren’t as good as I wanted but I was striking the ball well. You feel like you’ve got a lot of freedom with this set-up now. It’s really fun playing under these guys and hopefully I can do it for a long time.”
Stokes was not the only captain looking on at leafy Seddon Park, his opposite number, Tim Southee, also present and, as well as scouting the tourists, doubtless keeping a watchful eye on Kyle Jamieson.
The 6ft 8in right-armer is on the comeback trail from a lower back stress fracture that has taken seven months to fix and figures of three for 65 from 15 overs will have been heartening for Southee before his expected return for the Black Caps.
Word is that Jamieson will play one of the two forthcoming Test matches and though short of 100%, he was still good enough to nick off Ben Duckett for a sprightly 32 – his defensive prod flying to second slip – and produce a couple beauties that snuffed out Lawrence and No 8 Will Jacks (who scored 18 from 19 balls).
Jamieson aside, the local attack was so light in experience that Zak Crawley – bowled middle stump for 17 by seamer Jarrod McKay attempting an expansive drive – may rue his missed chance to make hay. Likewise Pope, who chipped to mid-wicket on 26, missed out on a flat one here.
That said, such thoughts don’t appear to consume this current England team; warm-up fixtures may be on a downward trend but after nine wins from 10 Tests under Stokes and McCullum, their graph has been on the rise.