Decoding Zak Crawley, the improved batter

PC – BCCI. The England opener has looked assured at the crease in the ongoing Test series in India

Who is Zark Crawley? Perhaps he belongs to the modern school of batting and believes in playing a range of shots. Or maybe there is more to one of the mainstays of England’s Bazball approach? The initial overs of day 4 of the second Test between India and England gave enough evidence that Crawley’s batting wasn’t just about taking the aggressive route. 

Jasprit Bumrah, the pace-spearhead, persistently tested the nuts and bolts of Crawley’s technique in the corridor outside the off-stump. The latter was up to the task of facing a bowler at the peak of his prowess as he showcased measured judgment. The opening over itself was an indicator of Crawley’s sound technique: He even left deliveries that were nipping back from outside off on a deck that was beginning to stay low.

The right-hander compiled a neat innings of 70 in the second essay in Vizag and averages 50 in the ongoing Test series. Not just that, he averages a healthy 53.42 over his last eight Tests, which includes the high profile Ashes. 

Rewind back in time to March 2023 and the world seemed like a harsh place for Crawley. After playing as many as 33 Test matches, the Kent opener was averaging a mere 27.6. He had just failed in New Zealand, where he averaged a measly 14.5. While poring through some of the old videos to analyse his struggles, in an imaginary sense, it looked like the Kent batter had a twin brother who was masquerading as Crawley. 

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So, what has Crawley done right to overcome his shortcomings? If you zero in on some of his recent knocks, it is quite apparent that he has worked on his batting stance. Before the 2023 English summer, Crawley had a wide stance. That stance was also coupled with him standing outside the crease. So, he was bound to take the ball well in front of the body. Crawley has since shortened it, allowing him to play it late and right underneath his eyes. In a nutshell, the weight transfer is better.

Even at a very embryonic stage of his career, Crawley always had the necessary skill-set to succeed at the highest level. Just that the rough edges of his weapons had to be sharpened. A visit to YouTube and you could end up seeing an old video of him driving and cutting, albeit with more of an open stance, against the touring West Indies side on his first-class debut in 2017. 

He soon aggregated his maiden first-class ton versus Glamorgan in Canterbury. Once again, a harsh critic could end up pointing out Crawley’s tendency to take the ball well in front of the body and edging a few through the slip cordon. But there was unmistakable promise in his batting. 

Unlike Dom Sibley or Ollie Pope, his fellow competitors for a Test spot, Crawley didn’t exactly have a good time in County cricket in 2019, composing  over 800 runs at an average of 34.16. Ed Smith, the then chief selector, however, took a bit of a gamble by including the opener for the Test series in New Zealand. It took Crawley another nine months to repay the faith shown in him by the selectors. And he did it in some style, essaying a double hundred versus Pakistan in Southampton.  Unfortunately, that was followed by a lean trot. 

There were still flashes of brilliance — a fifty each on a turning wicket in Ahmedabad and in Sydney. Crawley, though, seemed to be wrestling with inner demons. On occasions, there were question marks on him nibbling at deliveries in the channel. At other times, it was about being troubled by the incoming delivery. 

Even after a regime change, with Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum taking over as the captain and coach respectively, Crawley’s woes continued.  He did accumulate a hundred against Pakistan on a flat Rawalpindi pitch in late 2022, but that was followed by a volley of low scores. It was only after he crunched a delightful 189 in the Ashes Test at Old Trafford last year that Crawley has grown in confidence. The present management, comprising McCullum and Stokes, deserve plenty of credit for having unwavering belief in Crawley’s talents. 

Sometimes, explaining belief or the lack of it is akin to exploring a voyage into the unknown. It is hard to pinpoint when self-belief can light up like a bulb or when it gets extinguished at the blink of an eye. But there is no doubt that Crawley is in a good space at the moment. And it is just the right time for Crawley to wear his consistency-suit and ramp up his rather modest average of 32 in Test cricket. 




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