Brook's near miss could yet be vital for England's hopes

He showcased his ability to manipulate the field with his scoop but couldn't quite get the chase against SA over the line

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
Harry Brook's first T20 World Cup half-century was not enough to get England over the line against South Africa. But it could yet prove the difference between them qualifying for the semi-finals or being eliminated: by ensuring their margin of defeat was only seven runs, it meant England are well placed to qualify if their group is decided on net run rate.
Brook had to bide his time on a pitch that was slower than England anticipated, scoring 18 runs off his first 20 balls. But once he changed up a gear, he showcased his full potential as a middle-order T20 batter, manipulating the field at will and showing just how well he reads the game.
With South Africa's quicks bowling short of a good length, Aiden Markram gambled by keeping fine leg up. It is an unusual field to Brook given his proclivity to play the scoop, and in four balls across the end of the 15th and the start of the 16th over, he demonstrated why.
First, he jumped across his stumps and flicked Kagiso Rabada's offcutter past short fine leg. He worked the final ball of the over into the leg side to retain the strike, and Markram felt that the scoop was on with Anrich Nortje bowling. It meant Markram himself came up into the ring at mid-off.
Brook sensed his moment and gave Nortje the charge, flat-batting him over Markram's head after skipping down the pitch. He stayed leg-side for the follow-up, which he belted through extra cover -- past Markram's dive -- for four more. The scoop was the key that unlocked the rest of the field.
That is "absolutely" why Brook plays it, and why he considers it to be such a valuable weapon. "It only takes one or two to get away," he said after England's defeat. "I feel like it should be an easy boundary. I obviously missed a couple, but you only need to get a little bit of bat on it if it's full."
It ended up being his downfall: with 14 to win off the final over, Brook lofted Nortje over mid-off only for Markram to take a superb catch after running back. "When the score [required] is double the amount of balls, it's about time you need to try and put the foot down at that point," he said. "We tried to push the accelerator. We did it well for a while, but couldn't see the game home, unfortunately."
The equation for England heading into the final round of Super Eight games is relatively simple: any win against USA should be enough for them to get through, while a big win will guarantee their progress. "We've played quite a lot in Barbados over the last six months… hopefully we can go out there and give them a good battering," Brook said.
England have had a strange tournament, with wins against Oman, Namibia and West Indies, defeats to Australia and South Africa and a no-result against Scotland, but their path is laid out in front of them: three consecutive wins and they will become the first team to defend the men's T20 World Cup.
"We're defending champs and hopefully we can go out there and win it again," Brook said. "We've just got to keep on nailing it and obviously we've got another must-win few games now. We did that in the last World Cup. We did it in the last group stage. So who's to say we can't do it again?"

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98