Zak Crawley: England’s idiosyncratic matchwinner or a doomed Ashes bet?
Over the course of their year-long tenure, Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes have played for their opening game more often than any other player, and at intervals that have been more frequent than ideal.
The philosophy of the English leadership, after all, rests on instilling an unusually high level of confidence in their players, and the fact that Crawley so regularly needs a public refresher speaks a lot to his troubles. The 25-year-old’s Bazball-era average of 25.86 is by far the lowest of any batter named on yesterday’s first Test team of the summer.
The fact that Ben Foakes was not among the 15 players set to face Ireland at Lord’s next month was a reminder that behind the collective personality of ultra-positivity lies a ruthlessness and that words can only offer such an iron protection .
Alex Lees found that out when, after receiving almost the same support as his opening partner last summer – and hitting more runs – ahead of the fall tour of Pakistan, where Crawley scored his only Bazball hundred, he was dropped and him a key contract was denied date.
Yesterday it was a goalkeeper consistently named the best in the world by Stokes who was sidelined, a necessary sacrifice of Jonny Bairstow’s return.
Far from being a warning, however, Foakes’ sacking was merely the latest proof of England’s confidence in Crawley. Rob Key, chief executive of men’s cricket, stressed that a reshuffling of the line-up and a replacement for the Kent player had never been considered when planning to accommodate Bairstow.
“To be honest, we didn’t talk about it at all,” Key said. “We were looking for the best possible solution, not square pins in round holes. When we saw that, we couldn’t see anything else.”
In the gap between the New Zealand series in winter and the start of the home game series in summer, the conversation shifted from the obvious (and obviously one-sided) shootout between Bairstow and Foakes to more ‘external’ solutions, most of which included a Crawley defeat included his shirt.
Harry Brook and Bairstow were both touted by various quarters as possible openers before what was originally the most radical option – promoting Stokes to the top of the rankings as some sort of self-sacrificing, incisive and influential figure – seemed to somehow falter in the mainstream realm -Logic.
Perhaps we have all too quickly forgotten that this team’s unorthodox approach to Test cricket was preceded by a return to simplicity in terms of selection last summer. Rest and rotation were put on hold, the focus was on the next game. James Anderson and Stuart Broad were recalled, Joe Root returned to his best position, and top spinner Jack Leach was brought back to play. Ironically, it was now the best goalie, Foakes.
Or maybe it’s just that we’re not quite there yet where the Stokes nuclear option is needed as a prelude. Should that pesky knee flare up and the all-rounder need a special pitch then perhaps we could still make it, although Crawley fail to beat Pat Cummins & Co and England decide the solution lies not with county cricket’s specialist openers but with ourselves .
Crawley’s own championship form so far this season is on par with the Jekyll and Hyde vintage we’ve come to expect: nine innings, two ducks, a 170 high and just one 11-91.
“We don’t focus so much on average values and pure player statistics,” Key said yesterday. “It’s about what kind of influence you have on cricket matches?”
It’s a familiar refrain when it comes to Crawley, who McCullum said will never be a consistent cricketer but may instead emerge as an idiosyncratic match-winner.
When three wins bring the ashes on, the appeal is obvious, but only time will tell if England’s faith is blind.
https://www.standard.co.uk/sport/cricket/zak-crawley-england-ashes-test-selection-b1081731.html Zak Crawley: England’s idiosyncratic matchwinner or a doomed Ashes bet?