Crawley has not reached 50 in any of his last 15 Test innings, with nine single-figure scores, and Lees is averaging a modest 23.58 since becoming the latest top-order batter to be parachuted into the side.
But Key recognises it has been a decade since England’s last consistently reliable combination up top and does not want to fall into old habits of being too hasty with throwing players on the scrapheap.
“We just want to make sure we’re going to give people opportunity,” said England’s director of men’s cricket on Sky Sports.
“If there’s ever a time when we have new opening batters or new players, they will know they will get the same amount of opportunity as these guys have done.
“We have spent 10 years since (Sir Andrew) Strauss and (Sir Alastair) Cook, trying to find an opening partnership and it is the toughest part of batting at the moment.
“We’ve gone backwards and forwards with all these different people, we’re going to give them a proper go.”
Crawley showed some resolve and fighting spirit in testing circumstances against South Africa earlier this week, contributing 38 off 101 deliveries but more importantly, building a foundation for those below him, with twin tons from Ben Stokes and Ben Foakes putting England into a commanding position.
“There are not many people queuing up to bat at the top of order, they all want to bat four, five or six,” added Key. “The knock that (Crawley) played would have allowed the middle order to play the way they did.”
Key is on the panel of a wide-ranging high-performance review into the men’s game, led by Strauss, who revealed in a blog published by the England and Wales Cricket Board that a reduced top division in the county championship and a decrease in overall playing days will be among the initial recommendations.
While Strauss conspicuously avoided mentioning The Hundred, Key was happy to talk up the controversial 100-ball format but admitted he would like to see more red-ball cricket run alongside the format, with no first-class fixtures taking place this month.
“The Hundred is going to be something that secures the future of our game,” said Key. “It’s the best standard of white-ball cricket that we’ve got, it’s the best players playing against the best.
“(But) I don’t want players not to be playing any first-class cricket throughout that period (of the peak summer months). We can’t have people not playing first-class cricket in that August window.
“In this series (against South Africa) it would have been better if we’d have been able to give our Test cricketers some red-ball cricket going into that.
“I think we’ll end up with a better structure than what we’ve got this year.”
The panel has received insight from a variety of sources, including the 18 first-class counties, players and club chairs, and Key was adamant it was up to the wider game to decide whether to implement the recommendations proposed.
“Everything we do is going to be given to the game to say ‘do you want to do this?’ It is not about us ramming things through or anything like that,” Key added.
“It’s for us to say ‘this is what we think, we’ve asked everyone, are you happy to go with it?’ We’ll find out if they will.”