Zak Crawley must realise England potential soon with credit running out

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·3-min read
Zak Crawley must realise England potential soon with credit running out
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In the unforgettable Trent Bridge Test that finished a week ago, 1,675 runs were scored. There were five individual centuries, seven fifties and five more scores in the forties. Runs veritably flowed. But just four of them came from Zak Crawley, England’s opener.

For the first time since 2020, there is positivity around England batters whose name is not Joe Root or Ben Stokes. Alex Lees looks a player transformed from the slow start made in the Caribbean, and returns to Headingley still searching for a hundred, but confident. Ollie Pope will hope his Trent Bridge hundred can be a breakthrough at No3. Jonny Bairstow has three hundreds in 2022. Ben Foakes looks fluent at No7.

Crawley is the exception. Since an excellent century in Antigua, under the pressure of a first-innings deficit, he has had four quiet Tests, characterised by repetitive dismissals. At Trent Bridge, where he simply could not afford to get out to a booming drive again, he got two lovely balls from Trent Boult, but that will provide little comfort. He endured a modest start to the county season in a high-scoring Kent team, too.

Since his recall on Boxing Day, despite that hundred and an outstanding 77 in Sydney, he is averaging only 25. That leaves his Test average at 27, and his Test average opening at 23, second behind Mike Brearley for the lowest of those who have had 25 innings.

Crawley has become a problematic player for England. Sound judges inside and outside the set-up believe there is a player in there, and the high points of his Test career so far — that 267, plus fluent innings in Johannesburg and Ahmedabad — suggest they are right. The strokes are all there, but the savviness over when to use them is not right now; the numbers can be difficult to defend, though.

Zak Crawley will not be dropped for England’s third Test against New Zealand at Headingley (AP)
Zak Crawley will not be dropped for England’s third Test against New Zealand at Headingley (AP)

England are not about to drop Crawley. In Leeds on Thursday, the only likely change comes in the bowling attack, with the series won and the one-off Test against India following hot on Headingley’s heels. James Anderson is the favourite for a rest, with Jamie Overton’s pace likely to win out over his brother Craig, who did bowl well here last year, if a change is made.

Crawley is also unlikely to be dropped for the India Test, which would be his 25th. Stokes is a fan, and Brendon McCullum has laid out a belief that players should be given one Test too many, rather than one too few.

It may be that he is being asked to do the wrong job, but there is no space lower down the order, and sending him back to Kent — where he would have a diet of only white-ball cricket for a few months — is unlikely to turn him into a Test opener sharpish.

There are not options banging down the door, as Harry Brook is in the middle order. Ben Compton’s sample size is small, Rory Burns is only just back in form, and it is probably too soon for Dom Sibley to return, too.

Crawley is seen as leadership material, and perfectly fits the McCullum mould of a potentially dominant batter. Potential is the problem, though. He needs to come good soon.

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