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Analysis

Harry Brook prepares to take his chance, as Ollie Pope hopes his Test life begins at 30 caps

Bairstow injury opens door for new coming man, as predecessor embraces senior status

Harry Brook takes his place in England's slip cordon during practice  •  Getty Images

Harry Brook takes his place in England's slip cordon during practice  •  Getty Images

On Thursday, there will be a new kid in town. Following a soft launch in T20Is, Harry Brook will become Test cap number 707 on Thursday, as he takes the place vacated by Jonny Bairstow after a golfing accident.
Ben Stokes confirmed Brooks' debut on the eve of the third Test, but the Yorkshireman is more than just the next cab off the rank. He is, according to some very good judges, the Uber XL. Since the start of the 2021 summer, the 23-year-old has scored 1,782 first-class runs, including five of his seven career centuries. This summer, he's averaging 107.44 from 12 innings, including 140 for England Lions against the touring attack, albeit with Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje and Lungi Ngidi sitting out. There was also a 48-ball century for Lahore Qalandars against Islamabad United in February - the second fastest in the Pakistan Super League - which underlined his white-ball qualities.
He will return to Pakistan for the seven-match T20I series next week, before moving on to Australia for the T20 World Cup. And he'll almost certainly be back for England's historic three-match Test series in Pakistan. As great as the recent past has been, the immediate future carries even more promise. We are very much entering Brook SZN.
So, what do you need to know? There are shots for days, pluck for weeks, deft and dangerous wrists, and talent to burn. Even as a non-playing member of the squad until now, he has impressed plenty with his batting in the nets and has not been out of place in a dressing-room full of big personalities and seasoned internationals.
No doubt this all sounds familiar. Brook is clearly a unique talent, but English cricket has a habit of anointing a new wunderkind before the last one has found his feet. And Tuesday was a reminder of that, when the man who was last predicted to be king ran the rule over his soon-to-be teammate.
"Harry is a seriously good player," Ollie Pope said, when asked of the man 13 months his junior. Given the proximity in ages, the pair have been on England U19 tours together, and 2018 was the most notable split of their careers so far when Brook captained the U19s at the World Cup at the start of the year, before Pope made his full England debut that summer.
It's weird to think of Pope as that much more senior, but that's only right given he's been here four years already. Thursday will be notable for him, too: a second Test at his home ground, a 30th cap and seventh as England's No.3 - ascending levels of importance for a player in his fourth home summer as an active cricketer at the top level (a shoulder injury ruled him out of 2019).
His season's Test average of 34.36 is currently on course to be his highest so far, bolstered by a second Test century against New Zealand at Trent Bridge. For now, that figure is far more relevant than Pope's current career average of 30.00. But within the latter are contained experiences, successes and mistakes, which are expected to guide Pope to be the player many still believe he will become. As such, Brook's introduction should highlight the fact that Pope, even in a middle order of 30-somethings who have been there and seen it all in Bairstow, Joe Root and captain Ben Stokes, should regard himself as a senior man. It's something he does not have a problem with.
"I think it's a good way to be," Pope said of regarding himself in that manner. "If you're worried about keeping your voice down and just going about your own business, you can get quite internal like that. Thirty Tests is a good amount and it's a privilege to have played this many games and I also feel like I've got a great bank of experience now to work from. I've toured some good places and some tough places as well, which can expose your game and how you go about them. But I see them as massive learning blocks.
"For someone like Brooky, I know the challenges international cricket can bring. He's definitely someone I'll chat to. It's not me saying how to bat, it's just saying what I found has worked for me over my time so far as an England cricketer and the times when it hasn't necessarily worked for me, because it hasn't always been smooth sailing and I'm sure it won't be going forward. It's just almost learning how to deal with the good and the bad of Test cricket. Not that it's bad, just the lower phases when you're struggling for your own form and as a team. It's only things you can feed off and give advice to, for someone like Brooky coming through."
Age and maturity rarely run parallel in life and that is certainly true for sport. There is an argument to be made that Brook making his debut now makes far more sense than a 20-year-old Pope making his when he did. The Surrey batter had just 15 first-class matches under his belt before he came in at No.4 at Lord's against India in August 2018, which also happened to be the first time he had come to the crease in the first 10 overs of an innings in his red-ball career to date.
Brook, by contrast, has 56 appearances, along with stints at the PSL and Big Bash League in the winter just gone. He is, in terms of personality and ability, further along the line than Pope was, and he will also benefit from batting in a middle-order position far more familiar to him than the one Pope finds himself in right now.
Given Bairstow's "lower limb" injury is expected to keep him out for the rest of the year, Brook will likely have four Tests at No.5 before the year is out. By that point, Pope may still be trying to establish how No.3 works for him.
There is, however, a sense from those around Pope that he is growing into the role of first-drop. Not only its responsibility but the very nature of being someone who occupies that space. Some of the best No.3s the game has seen have been, well, "grown-ups". Pope knows a couple of them well. He played with Kumar Sangakkara at Surrey, whom he spoke to at Lord's last week about the role. And he regularly consults with the current incumbent at the county, South Africa's own Hashim Amla.
"He's a great role model, not just as a player but as a person," Pope said. "The way he stays so level, he's scored that many hundreds for South Africa - what a player - but you wouldn't know it. It's a great attribute to have - a humble guy. And we've chatted about technical stuff, and when I do get runs for England, he's one of the first to drop me a message."
That Pope is looking to position himself above his years is reflective of an environment under Brendon McCullum in which the squad feels "the closest we've been" and thus more receptive to new voices. He doesn't necessarily pipe up in meetings - which are few and far between with this management group - but there is a note to bring some energy on the pitch, particularly when he's at short leg, which is a position he won't be relinquishing to newbie Brooks.
Perhaps most important is that Stokes and McCullum see Pope as much more than a precocious youngster, but a serious operator who wants to put himself out there. While Stokes had known as much from seeing him operate at close quarters, McCullum got his first hint of that when Pope made perhaps the ballsiest call of his career to date.
Upon hearing Stokes mention in his unveiling as captain that Root would be moving back to four, Pope picked up the phone and, ultimately, demanded he get first dibs on three. Speaking four months on, Pope is glad he went through it.
"I don't know how he took at first," he said of Stokes' initial reaction. "If we wanted me to stick at four or he genuinely thought that. I just remember thinking there was one spot available and it was the first time I felt I could be successful in that role, the way I was playing county cricket and the hard work I had put in.
"I was happy I made that call and when Baz called me to tell me I was in the squad, I was very much buzzing. But also I'm batting at No.3, this is a chance I don't want to miss. It's nice to have had some success there and hopefully that can keep coming."
It is a chance that will be afforded to him as long as he wants it. With one score of note so far against South Africa - 73 in his first knock of the series at Lord's - the final match of the men's summer presents an opportunity to make No.3, and therefore a place in the XI, his own for the foreseeable future. As the next star of the future comes in, another could be on his way to being one of the present.

Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor for ESPNcricinfo