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Match Analysis

Harry Brook's one-two punch encapsulates his real-time evolution - and England's

Charge for four then straight six off Southee underline Brook's skill, poise and self-confidence

Harry Brook played another attacking innings, New Zealand v England, 1st Test,  Mount Maunganui, February 16, 2023

Harry Brook played another attacking innings  •  Getty Images

The shadows appeared on the outfield of the Bay Oval just after 6pm, signalling the handover from natural to artificial light. Way out in the distance, ominous clouds loomed, diverting the attention of those in the grass banks who began contemplating an early exit to find shelter. Cyclone Gabrielle has avoided these parts for the last couple of days, but the darkness beyond had a threat of an unwelcome return. Soon they would realise the storm was brewing on the field in front of them.
As Tim Southee ran in for the start of the 45th over, Harry Brook ran back at him. The ball, on a good length outside off, was sent back with interest, aerial to have Kane Williamson sprawling to no avail at mid-on. Two greats of New Zealand cricket were left clutching for answers.
Southee thought he had one with his next delivery: fuller, straighter, and a bit quicker. But Brook had the cheat sheet, staying dead still before unfurling a crisp, lofted straight drive back down the ground for the first six of the match. The phenom held the pose long enough for everyone to have a good look. Don't worry, Harry. We know - and we've known for some time.
Just how good, though? We're probably all still finding out. But here on the opening day in Mount Maunganui we got a few strong hints. Brook was central to all England were able to achieve on remarkable start to what was supposed to be an understated series.
This two-ball blitz was execution of an approach discussed in the last fortnight: to not simply try and survive the pink ball in this twilight period but go harder to meet it more than halfway. The assertiveness when Brook came to the crease in between the loss of Ollie Pope and Joe Root - in the space of four balls - ensured a strong start inspired by Ben Duckett was not wasted, nor New Zealand's half-experienced, half-newcomers attack allowed to settle. Brook was the primary scorer in partnerships with Stokes (35 of their 55) and Foakes (52 of 89), during which period England gained possession of the keys of this day-night Test.
Even getting bowled off his backside for 89 after bottom-edging a Neil Wagner bumper into the ground was more silver lining than cloud. From 298 for 6, England teed off (recklessly) to make it to 325 for 9 in the 59th over before Stokes declared - the second-earliest in the first innings of a Test in the game's history after Intikhab Alam declared Pakistan's first innings at Lord's after 44.5 overs back in 1974. It wasn't a point of discussion during the 40-minute dinner break, especially with Brook and Foakes still going strong. But no-one recognises serendipity quite like the England captain.
It meant James Anderson, rather than batting under lights at 7:55pm, was bowling under them with a shiny pink ball by 8:06pm. Eighty-four minutes later, England's greatest had two wickets, including the crown jewel Williamson LBW on review, as New Zealand trudged off three down trailing by 288.
And yet, Brook will spend Thursday night ruing what might have been. "It's disappointing," he said, as much about missing three figures as missing out on doing it in style. "But like I said before, I'd have bitten your hand off for an 80 again." As far as runs of scores go, 153, 87, 9, 108, 111 and 89 is enough to satiate even a kid demanding it all here and now.
He flirted with greatness, ending 11 short in his 7th Test innings of becoming the fastest player to four hundreds, and the first Englishman to go back-to-back four times since Ken Barrington.
For the second time this winter, he had Gilbert Jessop's record for the fastest hundred in his sights. He was four short of Jessop's 76-ball effort in Rawalpindi, and was primed to go closer when he walked out of the dinner break of this day-night match needing a gettable 21 off 12. Alas, he was unable to withstand Wagner's bouncer assault, even getting clocked on the jaw of the grille. The 23-year-old seemed to take perverse pride in wearing ball, as if it had "Balenciaga" embossed on it rather than "Kookaburra".
It seems churlish to be discussing things Brook hasn't done when the last three months have been nothing but achievement after achievement. He is already a T20 World Cup winner and player of the series in a historic victory over Pakistan, and we've still not even past the year mark in his international career.
Whenever he bats it feels like you're watching the kind of real-time evolution you'd usually only see through a microscope. Constant computations and tweaks to what's going on around him, even as conditions changed around him as afternoon became evening.
Early on, he noticed bowlers were going wide to Root, so much so that the former England skipper botched his now familiar square-on lap over the cordon, under-edging to Daryl Mitchell at wide second slip. When debutant Blair Tickner opted for the same line against him, Brook cut successive boundaries: the first caressed behind point, the second bludgeoned in front, sending the man in the deep left then right, like an indecisive commuter trying to find the closest exit at Kings Cross.
As for the one-two combo on Southee, that was ultimately using the New Zealand captain's legacy against him. "He's the type of bowler who's always going to smash a length, he doesn't really miss," Brook explained for the charge and slap for four, before an important caveat. "He's not express [pace] and I just felt it was the right time - I was picking up length well."
As for the clearing of the fence that followed immediately after, that was a split-second adjustment. "I was actually sitting on a pull shot to be honest, the one I hit for six. But I was in a good enough position to adapt to that delivery."
In a good enough position, sure, but good enough full stop. All mixed with the kind of technical aptitude that had former England captain and Times correspondent Micheal Atherton cooing over every forward defence Brook played today.
It takes a lot to stand out in a team doing special things, yet Brook is doing just that. Moreover, he is beginning to reveal an absurd truth. It is not simply that he is thriving in this England team, but they are thriving because he is in it.

Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo