Zak Crawley has been earmarked as a future full-time England captain ahead of his international debut as skipper.
Crawley has only played three one-day internationals, all in 2021, but will lead England against Ireland on Wednesday in their last ODI series before their World Cup defence in India.
Only four months ago he remained one of English cricket’s most divisive figures. But after a stellar Ashes series, his appointment as captain reflects his growing standing in the English game.
“Zak could be somebody that captains in other formats in the future,” said Mo Bobat, England’s performance director. “He is quite a leaderful character, the way that he goes about his business – the way he role models, through his own behaviours.”
The modern schedule no longer allows players to have a grounding in captaincy before doing the job for England. As such, England have to find ways to give players captaincy experience themselves.
“You want to try and invest opportunities like this into players where you might get a return on that investment in the future,” Bobat said. “We are trying to think proactively about leadership.”
While the series against Ireland is England’s last before the World Cup, it is better understood as representing the start of the journey towards the 2027 tournament.
With the chutzpah to drive the first ball of the Ashes for four, his pull off the front foot and an expanding range of shots – he is developing his ramp – Crawley has the game to be at the heart of England’s white-ball plans. In the next year, there will be a major generational shift in England’s white-ball side, as the evolution away from the brilliant coterie of talent born around 1990 accelerates. At 25, Crawley is primed to be part of the new generation.
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“We see leadership potential in him,” declared Luke Wright, England’s national selector. “People look up to him as a leader. We’ve seen the way he handles himself around that group in Test cricket, he’s been hugely impressive.”
Before the second Ashes Test at Lord’s, with England suffering from several injuries, Crawley asked if he could address the side in the team huddle. Crawley told them a parable of a Chinese farmer who lived his life by a Far Eastern proverb: ‘Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?’ The message was for England to focus on their actions, rather than worry about events that they could not control.
Even while his technique has been dissected during some arduous periods in Test cricket, Crawley has retained his equable temperament. Refraining from using social media has helped him treat Kipling’s twin imposters the same.
“I just try and stay in my own bubble and listen to the people whose opinions I want to hear,” he has explained.
The bulk of Crawley’s leadership experience came in the mid-2010s, when leading Tonbridge School. There, Crawley captained in a manner in keeping with Ben Stokes’s England.
“I’d describe him as bold and brave,” recalls Chris Morgan, Tonbridge’s director of sport.
“He always backed his players – and wasn’t thinking about what if things went wrong. He was thinking if we perform to the best of our ability and this player does what he’s capable of we’re going to have a really good chance of winning.
“So he’d always back his players, always back them to do well, put them in situations where they could do well and he’d lead from the front with the bat. He wouldn’t ask anyone to do anything he didn’t do himself.”
So far, two games for Kent in the T20 Blast and two in the County Championships are the limit of Crawley’s captaincy experience in the professional game. But Daniel Bell-Drummond, his long-time opening partner who has often captained the county, has observed Crawley’s leadership abilities.
“He’s a very good talker to the team, not just in delivery but more the impact of his words,” Bell-Drummond says. “He’s massive on taking the positive option. He’s a smart and brave cricketer so I look forward to him showing his tactical strengths.
“He’s a confident person in his abilities and has a will to win, he is also very interested in other perspectives and opinions as he always wants the best for people and for the team. I’ve always believed he’d be an England captain one day.”
If Crawley’s immediate focus will be upon using the series against Ireland to further his white-ball aspirations, the series doubles as a chance for him to develop his claims to lead England in years to come.
At this juncture, the two likeliest men to succeed Stokes appear to be Crawley and Ollie Pope, who is just a month older. While Pope is England’s incumbent Test vice-captain, he fared modestly in two Ashes Tests before his series was terminated by a dislocated shoulder. With uncertainty over Stokes’s ability to bowl, and both Joe Root and Harry Brook automatic picks in the middle order, Pope’s position in the XI is also not completely certain.
Just like Jason Roy under Eoin Morgan, Crawley’s approach as an opener – and his commitment to it even while struggling – has embodied the style that Stokes wants.
This ethos could yet make Crawley a prime candidate to continue the approach, as England are determined to do, when Stokes eventually steps aside.
And so the coming days could offer clues about whether Crawley will one day lead in Test cricket – and the sort of captain that he could be.