I catch up with Tommy at a Turkish cafe in town after his long drive from his off-season home in Bristol.
The Tom Brooker that sits in front of me, sipping his Turkish coffee, seems far from L’Enfant terrible that found himself in many a war of words across the TVL in 2020, his first full season playing senior cricket. Yet, having seen his evolution from a front row seat, many of the leadership traits he flashed in spite of his sharp tongue, have seemingly solidified and now become his more dominant traits. The pending question for the club’s first Gen Z captain, is whether over grinding season where captaincy can be all consuming and frustrating, is whether the chimp can stay firming in the cage or escape and throw faeces indiscriminately at passers by.
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Tom has been around team leadership since 2020, when we was informally tasked as a Vice, while not taking the lead in any games, was relied upon for his input and energy. 2021 saw him see more opportunity to steward the ship in the absence of the then skipper, before taking the reigns almost by default with the ‘mismatch’ of a season that saw availability decimated and forced extended family members into league action. Tom acknowledges the tough spot the second team perennially finds itself, the ‘best players will always be pinched leaving foundations vulnerable’. But there is promise with new 1st xi captain Ryan Lewin, championing a legitimate first team squad of 16, meaning the cupboard of talent should not run as bare some weeks as had previously been the case.
The club’s 2s saw an admirable bounce back from the 2019 relegation to Div 7, due to the unluckiest of abandoned fixtures, where Richard Noble’s side could have sat 4th, but instead went down due to a tightly packed table saw themselves relegated by a point. From a team that formally sat in Div 4, the desire to get the 2s further up the league ladder has been desperate, but never quite a sustained priority. 2020 saw an over achieving young side attain promotion in a shortened Covid Season – when Tom’s capabilities as an organiser glimpsed (as was highlighted in this mini documentary).
The same side, in name only but with little of the experience in league cricket, avoided relegation in a year that saw 4 sides go down from div 6a, and find form in as youngsters like Will Moss, Nilesh Bhandari & Balla Ziemkendorf developed their stride in senior cricket. With this foundation in place, 2022 failed to meet any of the potential. Injuries, availability and a thin first team squad saw the youngsters called up to plug holes and left Brooker leading in the side often in place of new skipper Sam Jordan, who found himself having to fill in for the 1s or oft injured.
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Tom appreciates there is only so much you can do, the controllables are often don’t include availability “there is a lot down to luck, but there are areas I can control that will benefit the club. As a young captain, a figure in the club that isn’t too far away generationally from promising colts, I believe I remove some of the intimidation for them playing senior cricket.” Swirling and staring into his turkish coffee, he also hopes to retain some experience around him, both in playing and in guile. “I expect to lean on guys like Dave Block, he knows his cricket and is a smart cricketer. Guys like Guppy and others who know how to turn up and want to play and win, that’s only going to create a good culture.”
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Leading by example is huge cornerstone for Tom. He has long refused to ask something of someone, that he wouldn’t do himself. Before, it could be misconstrued as enthusiasm to be involved, but as time tends to show, being willing to through himself headfirst into admin and the unpleasant playing roles one finds themself, reveals a team man who would rather do than delegate. Tom’s cricket hasn’t set any side alight yet, but when considering he tended to be lumped with the unglamourous middle overs or bat in with games in the balance, you could be reminded his role isn’t one to shine. His current stint skippering and sitting on the committee of the Bristol UWE cricket club has has well prepared him for the rigmarole of ‘shAdmin’ that comes amateur cricket as well as year round cricket. He hopes there is more responsibility spread around the club, where more people are willing to muck in and give back to a club where members have been more happy to take without sentiment, Tom highlights the reappointment of Alex ‘Taz’ Hill to the committee as a good that will add some efficiency to club operations. Just as he makes this note, a parking warden appears and we both panic. The desire to create, what Andy Chorley used to term as a ‘sticky’ culture, that people want to be around, both socially and on the pitch is in his cognisance. The balance of creating a club togetherness sans the cliques has always been an unavoidable trope at cricket clubs, but the hope is there.
Along with Lewin, Brooker is taking a forward thinking approach to quantifying winning and how to judge players past the traditional ‘eye test’. Recently they internally released a cheat sheet highlighting what they thought was necessary to win games in the TVL based on data accrued from last summer. For those who are seeing the similarities to Sabermetrics and the Moneyball approach wouldn’t be wrong. Cricket is a strange sport where data can mislead due to the range of variance compared to baseball, especially in smaller data sets, but the desire to look for trends to help find success and put players in position to succeed is an approach that should be welcomed in the selection meetings, where those margins gains would have probably bumped the 1st xi up a division any of the last 2 years where they missed out narrowly. However, Bazball this will not be, “no ones going to be able to do that on C1” he laughs. The hope to avoid rewarding potential over output should be bolstered with the new depth and rise in competition which Brooker has hailed as ‘much needed’.
The future is tantalising. The question is whether the enthusiasm can withstand the grind of what can seem like a feckless task at times, but as long as success is in the picture, the juice will remain.