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Harry Brook ready to leap into 'big league' despite Dean Elgar's warning

Batter has shown management he's more than ready to slot into expansive, free-wheeling England machine

Harry Brook has been confirmed for his Test debut against South Africa  •  Getty Images

Harry Brook has been confirmed for his Test debut against South Africa  •  Getty Images

"This is the big league now," chewed Dean Elgar. The South Africa skipper had a wry smile across his face, unwilling to pump up the tyres of England's newest Test cricketer, but courteous enough to warn him to expect a unique challenge from Thursday onwards. One Elgar will ensure is uncomfortable as possible.
Harry Brook will make his debut at the Kia Oval in the third and final Test of this series against the Proteas. A match which carries its own pressure of a decider will also hold great expectation on Test cap No. 707 as a replacement for Jonny Bairstow, who has arguably been the player of this first summer of the Stokes-McCullum era.
Brook is averaging 107.44 against the red ball this season from eight Championship matches, and has spent enough time with the squad to show the management he is more than ready to slot into this expansive, free-wheeling machine. "At the start of the summer, when we picked the squads, we wanted to have the top six sorted and then it was 'who are the next guys in?'," Stokes said on Wednesday. "And we all thought Harry was definitely going to be the next batter in."
Naturally, the skipper talked up the talented young Yorkshireman, who for the longest time has been spoken of as a future multi-format international and already has four T20I caps to his name. "There's just things that stand out about certain players, like the time they have at the crease, the shots they play," Stokes said. "There's just something that stands out that puts them above other people you see playing." And, of course, when the prospect of Brook's debut was put to Elgar, it was only right for him to go the other way.
"There' s a lot of things that put a stop to you as a player," Elgar said, with the insight of someone whose entire persona and legend has been quarried from Test cricket. "Whether its crowds, the cameras ... Brooky, I've played quite a few games against him.
"Good player, no doubt. Got a bit of runs against us but again ..." he said, referencing Brook's 140 for England Lions at Canterbury. "We've got our fast bowlers who didn't bowl against him in Kent [Anrich Nortje, Kagiso Rabada and Lungi Ngidi] so I am not reading too much into that.
"This is Test cricket. It will humble you as a player and a person."
It was fitting that both captains should have their say on Brook on the eve of the final Test of the English summer. Even with so much cricket being played over the last five months, he has perhaps been the most talked-about batter going, as much for his work in the middle as the time away from it - notably the times he had to forgo playing for carrying drinks. Something the man himself says irked him more than anyone else.
"Absolutely," he answered when asked of the frustration at spending the summer in squads for seven Tests, starting with New Zealand and India before finally getting a go in this last one against South Africa. "But that is part of it. It's not all plain sailing. I probably would have struggled a bit more if it was (biosecure) bubbles and I wasn't able to get away and play cricket. But I've been allowed to go away and have a bat to keep the momentum up, which made it a bit easier."
The occasion of this debut has a degree of fortune to it, albeit rooted in the misfortune of Bairstow breaking his leg at a golf course, who he met with yesterday. Bairstow was in London seeing a specialist ahead of an operation next week.
Brook was originally preparing to take part in the first two days of Yorkshire's Division One match against Lancashire at Emirates Old Trafford before managing director Rob Key sent him a text him soon after those plans were being discussed, telling him to cancel them. Once he heard of Bairstow's injury, Brook figured his time had come.
Stokes' announcing of the XI on Wednesday was merely public confirmation of the news all expected, albeit only confirmed privately on Tuesday. Brook took the news with something of a shrug, albeit a happy one. "It's just another game isn't it?" he said. "I'm just hitting a ball. I'm already living the dream - I'm looking forward to it."
That disposition is one of the reasons why England are very much all in on Brook. He takes plenty in his stride, right down to the fact it was only a few weeks ago he was putting himself forward to open if that's where the management wanted to try him. Even now, as he prepares to nestle into a preferred position, with three Tests in Pakistan at the end of the year also on offer for a clear run at No. 5, he reiterated that sentiment: "I'm easy. I'll bat wherever the team needs me. I've been trying to be a match winner as long as I've been playing so if I can make a match-winning contribution then happy days."
He is not thinking too much beyond this week, though has admitted he is already anticipating his first ball. Given Elgar's comments, it'll likely be sharp and directed around his neck from one of the three quicks he didn't face in Canterbury.
Expect something just as aggressive in response. Brook, though still wet behind the ears, fits the mould of this new, aggressive style of English Test cricket. "I'm not just out there to survive," he confirmed. "I'm there to score."
You could say he has drunk the Kool-Aid. As with most his age, there is an affinity for the white ball which has seen him, among franchise appearances this winter, notch the second-fastest century in the Pakistan Super League. Domestic viewers will also be familiar with this side of his game following his exploits with Yorkshire and Northern Superchargers over the last two summers. But truth be told it is a frame of mind he has always adopted, rooted in his preference when it comes to the longest format. And in many ways, Brook's presence is another ingredient in what promises to be an engaging climax to the Test summer.
"When I was younger I wouldn't have paid to watch a draw in Test cricket. I'd have definitely preferred to watch a result so it probably fits my cricket a bit more. It's exciting isn't it? People are wanting to come and watch England and the way they've come about it this year has been really good."

Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor for ESPNcricinfo