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Cricket news - Fit-again Henry Brookes eyes improvement after promising 2018
"I woke up one day and it was almost this stiffness in my lower back."
We all get to an age when this is our default vibe of a morning. But when you're 18 years old, it is something worth flagging.
Henry Brookes didn't at first. Though he felt his movement was restricted, he went along to Warwickshire's training session to see if he could run it off. But that only turned stiffness to pain. "At that point, I remember thinking I should really knock this on the head and let the physio know," Brookes recalls to Cricbuzz.
"I went to do a couple of tests. It's slightly strange because they put you in a couple of positions and moving you around. And that's when I definitely realised there was pain." Brookes was sent for a scan and, soon, his and the club's worst fears were confirmed. It was a stress fracture.
Luckily, it was only a partial fracture - "a crack in the bone". There was no need to operate - only for the rarest of 'stressies' does a bowler need to go under the knife - but simply a prescribed period of rest at first. A lot of time off his feet followed to ensure no pressure was going through the area before some basic bodyweight exercises and core work got him back on track to full fitness. But the fracture was identified in July 2018, curtailing what up to that point had been a breakout summer for the precocious quick.
Heads were turned at the start of the summer when Brookes rattled through 21 wickets (at an average of 21.38) in five Championship matches. It was the manner of them which struck the most: this lanky teen bounding into the crease, big gather with his right elbow pointing to the non-striker before unleashing a slingshot to the other end. No one was really sure of the speed, but given how batsmen were reacting to him, he was certainly quick enough for those at the ECB to sit up and take notice.
Further joy came in the T20 Blast when Brookes notched nine wickets in seven games and, impressively, went along with an economy rate of just 5.50. An indication of just how desperate England are for bowling of his ilk came when he earned a Lions call-up in June. A month later, he woke up with a bit of stiffness and, well, you know the rest.
"I suppose I surprised myself really," reflects Brookes. "I didn't expect to be playing as much as I did at the start of the year. Then I ended up playing all three formats. I got selected for the England Lions which was a real achievement. Even though I didn't quite play, it really felt like something to be part of the squad. It felt like something to really be proud of."
"Getting injured when I did was a bit of a kick in the teeth. I'm only young, but I suppose I reached some highs and some lows in the same season."
Cricbuzz, in an attempt to make the best of a bad situation, puts it to Brookes that all bowlers worth their salt get a stress fracture. It's a rite of passage. "I suppose it is, yeah, it's just part and parcel of being a bowler I suppose. I think it was important to get my head around it, and it's happened now. I was disappointed with the timing but I've strengthened my body while trying to take a load off my back when I bowl."
Brookes has always been a fast bowler, even from way before he joined Warwickshire as a nine-year-old. He idolised Andrew Flintoff as a kid and their biggest similarity might be that jagging, back-of-a-length delivery that makes batting not very fun at all. "He was quite a flair player, wasn't he? Bowls quick, gave it a whack!" Brookes may never come close to emulating the latter, but he's already a regular about 90mph. Not that he's a speed gun obsessive.
Those closest to him say he is incredibly adept at picking up new concepts. This winter he has worked on a few different white ball variations, along with some maintenance on his action - both of which have seen marked improvements. His confidence is also a noteworthy and valuable characteristic in his line of work.
In Brookes' own words, he's played cricket for "god knows how long", which is the sort of thing only someone twice his age can get away with saying. But his surname and Knowle and Dorridge Cricket Club are an association long in the tooth. His grandfather, father and uncles played at the club, and he, along with his two brothers Ben and Ethan, who are also part of the development of excellence programme at Warwickshire, turned out for the Birmingham & District Premier Division side.
"Oh, cricket is definitely in the family. The game has always been about family for me. Even the Warwickshire age-group stuff felt like an extension of that with my brothers there."
That Warwickshire nod is important. Because as young as Brookes may seem, even though he speaks like he's been around the traps, the responsibility for success this year at Warwickshire has shifted to a different demographic. Jonathan Trott's retirement, the exits of bowlers Keith Barker, Chris Wright and Boyd Rankin and an injury to Ian Bell keeping him out of the first months of the season has seen a shedding of older bodies. One that has been planned for. Former England assistant coach Paul Farbrace has been enlisted as sport director to oversee this transition, along with head coach Jim Troughton.
The opportunities are there for the likes of Sam Hain, Dom Sibley (both 23), Will Rhodes (24), Olly Stone (25) and Adam Hose (26) to take the reins for Championship success. And Brookes (again - only 19) believes this band of younger brothers have enough about them to do the heavy lifting now that Warwickshire are back in Division One.
"I don't think there are a lot of clubs where so much faith is put into younger players," says Brookes. "The younger players in our dressing room have experience and there's a lot of belief around. From coaches to the players themselves. For me personally, I'd say getting a consistent run of games under my belt, in all formats, would be a great way to improve on last year."
"As a young group, I don't see why we can't stand up and continue to take the club forward."
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