Cricket

Pat Brown hopes to stave off sophomore syndrome after breakthrough debut season

It happened to Mark Haddon. After his first novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time sold more than two million copies, Haddon was the British author to watch. Remember his follow-up, A Spot of Bother? Me neither.

It happened to Michu, the Spanish striker who scored 18 league goals in 2012-13, his debut season for Swansea City; the following campaign brought just two.

And it happened to the Kaiser Chiefs, the noughties rock band from Leeds, who followed up their debut album Employment with an effort that Pitchfork described as an “extended dreary hangover from the drunken escapade of the first”.

But Pat Brown is determined that it won’t happen to him. After a breakout year in the Vitality Blast last year, in which he came seemingly from nowhere to spearhead Worcestershire’s attack and lead them to a maiden title, the underlying symptoms of sophomore syndrome loom large.

Other teams will no longer be taken by surprise. Analysts have prepared footage; coaches have prepared plans. How to deal with Brown is now the first bullet point on the dossier, not a rushed footnote added by hand.

Not that any of that fazes him, of course. “At the end of the day if I nail my skills how I did last season and how I can then I’m still going to do alright,” Brown tells ESPNcricinfo. “Obviously I’m prepared maybe not to have as good a year since people are more prepared to face me, but if I stick to focusing on my skills, then I can let them do the talking.

“It’s not so much a plan to stop it happening, it’s just a case of looking to keep improving, keep one step ahead of batters. I won’t worry too much about research being done.”

After all, Brown’s success was hardly a surprise come the knockouts of a tournament that stretches out over several months. And yet, despite the preparation teams had done to counter his threat, he was the star of Finals Day. He returned 4 for 21 in the semi against Lancashire before Sussex played out his four overs for just 15.

“You saw in the final, Sussex didn’t really try to hit me around too much – that was obviously good for my economy. I didn’t take any wickets in the final, but went at under four [an over]. If that happens, I’m just as happy not to take wickets but to try and control the run rate for the team.”

Perhaps the most impressive feature of Brown’s season was that all his achievements – most wickets in the tournament, the second-most in an English T20 campaign – came about while he played through a serious injury.

“I got through the tournament OK, and had a scan afterwards on my back,” he recalls. “We were hoping it would rule anything too bad out, so that I could go away if there was the possibility, but it turned out I had a stress fracture. That put my winter on hold really.”

And talk of going to franchise leagues was not mere speculation. At least one Big Bash team enquired about Brown’s availability, and he had to withdraw from the Bangladesh Premier League after being picked up in the draft when he realised the extent of his injury. He went unsold in the IPL auction, but was mentioned in dispatches as a possible injury replacement whenever a fast bowler went down.

“What’s the worst that can happen? You get whacked around – it’s happened to plenty of people before and will happen to plenty of people again”

Pat Brown

That has meant a strange nine months since the euphoria of Finals Day. He returned to the University of Worcester, securing a 2.i in business management – “a decent result” – and came back into the first team during the One Day Cup.

“It’s been a bits-and-pieces season,” he says. “There’s been a break since the One Day Cup, which has been a bit strange. That might pose a bit more of a challenge for some bowlers to get back into bowling those skilful balls – yorkers, slower balls.”

Time off, though, has allowed Brown to work on those variations that made him stand out so much last year. His knuckleball, which floats and dips through the air, bamboozled batsmen in the death overs last year, to the extent his economy rate in the last five overs was a parsimonious 7.21, and is his main variation alongside an orthodox offcutter.

While there has not been any contact from England to date, eight T20 internationals on the tours to New Zealand and South Africa this winter will see Brown come into contention. Not that he is one to think that far ahead, of course – “I just get on with doing what I do for Worcester,” he says. “If I don’t bowl well enough, I won’t be playing, and if I don’t then I’ve got a chance. It’s as simple as that really.”

The Blast begins in earnest with a trip to Trent Bridge on Thursday night, but Brown is not daunted. “What’s the worst that can happen? You get whacked around – it’s happened to plenty of people before and will happen to plenty of people again.

“Notts haven’t been in the best of form and neither have we in red-ball cricket. It could be a case of both teams letting the shackles off, and trying to get the ball rolling in T20.”

Nottinghamshire will welcome Alex Hales back into their side, over two months after his last appearance, while Dan Christian returns as an overseas player and captain. Bowling at those two would be an ominous prospect for some, but Brown relishes the challenge.

“It’s a nice test to be up against the big players. It’s not a win-win because you obviously want to beat everyone, it’s obviously really good for you, good for your confidence; if they get hold of you it’s a case of well: it’s widely accepted someone like Glenn Maxwell is a pretty good player – if he whacks me about it won’t do too much harm to my reputation.”

Worcestershire’s triumph last year came almost out of nowhere: they were the outsiders going into their first-ever Finals Day, and looked down and out halfway through their innings in both games. But there is a certain pressure on them this year, and Brown thinks that a quarter-final is the bare minimum.

“It’s what we’d expect of ourselves,” he says. “A good season would be getting back to Finals Day. Last year we didn’t get given much of a chance, but once you get there anyone can win – anything can happen on the day.”

It is easy to get carried away about Brown, and the prospect of him, Jofra Archer and Tom Curran forming a potent seam attack in the T20 World Cup next year is mouthwatering. But all that is a long way off yet: for now, the focus is on nailing his own Difficult Second Album.

Article source: http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/content/story/1194894.html?CMP=OTC-RSS

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