A look around most lecture halls at British universities in late October paints a picture of despondency: students slump behind walls of laptops, heavy-hearted as winter draws in, and as the tedium of academic work grinds them down.
For Pat Brown, the monotony has hit harder than most. After a breakthrough summer, in which his reputation grew from unknown tyro to England hopeful thanks to his 31 wickets in Worcestershire’s victorious T20 Blast campaign, the 20-year-old is back at the University of Worcester, where he is studying for a degree in business management.
“It’s quite a nice grounding really,” he tells ESPNcricinfo, “getting back into what everybody else my age is doing. But it’s made me want to work harder with cricket, because I know how much I love playing cricket and it’s reminded me how tedious it can be doing the academic stuff.”
But as most of his final-year coursemates prepare to navigate through revision schedules, coursework, and exam season towards the bleak reality of student debt, Brown will start next year with a first taste of franchise cricket with a Bangladesh Premier League for the Sylhet Sixers.
As if his competition-high wicket tally was not enough in and of itself, Brown’s knuckleball and sharp bouncers helped him pick up combined figures of 8-0-36-4 on Finals Day and widespread acclaim, leading his agent to put his name forward for leagues across the world.
“I wrote down all the dates for the drafts and auctions,” Brown says, “but I forgot about this one and got a call off my agent Sunday morning, telling me I’d been drafted. I was a bit surprised, but then obviously pretty excited to get that sort of call for the first time.”
How will he fit in a month in Bangladesh around essays and tutorials? “I’m not really sure yet! I’ll have a meeting with the guy who deals with any timetabling issues – I’ll schedule a chat when I know more about dates of the competition, when I fly out and stuff, and see what we can work out. It’s not an opportunity I’m going to turn down though.”
Brown’s coach in Bangladesh will be Waqar Younis, who he considers to be “a legend of fast bowling”, and his potential team-mates include David Warner, Nasir Hossain, Sandeep Lamichhane and Mohammad Irfan.
“I know how much I love playing cricket and it’s reminded me how tedious it can be doing the academic stuff.”
With BPL sides only permitted to field four overseas players in their playing XI this season – down from five last year – Brown is realistic about his chances of playing time, but thinks he can draw from the experience regardless.
“I guess that’s what’s so great about franchise tournaments. Even if you’re carrying drinks for the whole tournament, you can’t really go wrong from being around the guys who are there – you’re always going to get something out of it. So it’ll be good to learn from them and use that information, use what I learn to improve my own game and bring back for Worcester.
“But it’s a long tournament – over a month – so I’d hope that I get a couple of opportunities. That’s just the way with professional sport: I’m sure that chance will come, and then it’s up to me to take it, to try and play the majority of the games, and to contribute. Then, the hope is that BPL deal gets the ball rolling from my point of view and there’s the potential to play in the PSL and the IPL in the new year, which would be great as well.”
For a bowler who was playing in Division 3B of the Under-17 County Championship for Huntingdonshire only three years ago, Brown’s rise has been meteoric. In 2016, he was plucked from the obscurity of Minor Counties and club cricket by Worcestershire after attending a trial day at Wellington School run by the county’s strength and conditioning coach, Ross Dewar, and specialist bowling coach Steffan Jones, and just two years later he had greats of the game lionising him.
“It was obviously really nice for the likes of Jimmy Anderson and Allan Donald to be saying nice things about me. It doesn’t really feel real – it’s still a bit like ‘are they really talking about me?'”
Brown’s season must be put into some context to understand why they are swooning. His 31 wickets were not only the most in this season’s Blast, but the second-most in a single season of English domestic T20 ever – only Alfonso Thomas in 2010 has more.
His economy at the death was 7.21, second only to Wahab Riaz; and his 21 wickets when defending totals was six ahead of his nearest competitor, Jofra Archer.
He is not, as some have painted him to be, a man with endless variations. Instead, he has just two: the knuckleball, which he bowls with unerring accuracy and unusual regularity, and the off-cutter, which contrast starkly with an 85mph quicker ball. It is a method that reflects the man: straightforward, sensible, and free from frills.
Not that Brown is likely to get ahead of himself, mind you. “Cricket has a funny way of biting you up the bum if you get a bit ahead of yourself,” he says. “With T20 cricket especially, it’s easy to go off the boil when people start working you out or you have a few bad games and your momentum slips, so you’ve got to stay level and play every game the same – things can turn on you pretty quickly.
His county captain Moeen Ali said Brown was “very close” to England recognition after Finals Day, but he distances himself from any speculation.
“It comes into your thinking for a few seconds when someone mentions what Mo said, and it’s obviously really nice – it’s an amazing thought to have, considering where I was three years ago.
“But you’ve just got to be consistent, and the best way to get picked for higher honours is just to keep doing your thing, taking wickets and doing it consistently. Hopefully it’ll happen at some point, I’ll get on a Lions tour or something, but for now it’s just a case of keeping taking wickets and let that speak for me rather than anything else.”
Source: ESPN Crickinfo