From the moment he drilled the first ball of the Ashes—off Pat Cummins at Edgbaston—for four, Zak Crawley has been eager to return the unwavering faith that Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum have shown in him since the start of the Bazball era.
On the second day at Old Trafford, he fulfilled that promise with an astonishing innings of 189 from 182 balls, taking the attack to Australia’s bowlers in such an uncompromising manner that, weather permitting, England appear to be on course for an Ashes-squaring victory.
In an interview with Sky Sports at the end, Crawley admitted that his high-octane attitude had caused him some self-doubt, despite the constant positive reinforcement from England’s dressing room. However, with the series on the line, this performance made all of the difficult times worthwhile.
“We had a good day today.” “We’re in a good position as a team,” Crawley said after England raced to 382 for 4, a 67-run lead. “It was a lot of fun. I rode my luck at times, but I also hit some nice shots.
“I doubt myself at times, but I have to tell myself, ‘Keep being me,'” he continued. “That’s how I play.” I’m fairly streaky at first, but then I go on a run. They [the coach and captain] tell me to go out there and make a difference at the top of the order. I’m going to have runs of low scores because I’m taking a punt, but happily, it paid off today.”
In the middle of a series of low scores that had left Crawley’s career average in the mid-20s and his standing in the media under criticism, McCullum remarked last summer that his “skillset is not to be a consistent cricketer.” Crawley has now built up 820 runs at 43.15 and a strike rate of less than 90 since his series-sealing half-century against South Africa at The Oval, while his first Ashes century propelled him to the top of the run-charts for the series, with 385 from 428 balls at 55.00.
“They don’t want me to lose days like today,” Crawley continued. “Perhaps if I tried to be more consistent, I wouldn’t have had a day like today.” I really prefer a few low scores followed by a large one. [Criticism] is certainly justified since I haven’t been consistent, but I believe I’ve demonstrated that, at my best, I’m capable of performing at this level. I was delighted with how everything happened. That was more my style.
Crawley’s innings, like his first-ball boundary at Edgbaston, were noted for their deliberate aggression, not least their first-ball reverse sweep for four, which contributed to taking Travis Head out of Australia’s attack after only six overs for 48. And, in keeping with a recurring trend in the series, he was unrelenting in his assault, particularly against Cummins, whose 16 overs went for an eye-watering 93.
“It’s definitely a conscious effort to take them down, because obviously they’re great bowlers who are trying to rest [between spells],” Crawley explained. “I think it’s important to put those bowlers under pressure when they come on, so they don’t have time to rest and come back.” I’d attempt to bat time and create an innings like [Joe] Root or any of the other guys up there, but it’s much better when I put the bowler under pressure before they can get me. It comes off sometimes, and sometimes it doesn’t.”
Crawley’s innings, though, will not have persuaded all of his detractors, despite raising his average beyond 30 for the first time since March 2022. According to ESPNcricinfo’s statistics, by the time he was dismissed, his control percentage was 70.88%, having been in the mid-60s for much of his knock. He inside-edged past his own stumps for four on many occasions, while a handful of flashes outside went over the slips for additional boundaries.
The individual himself was unapologetic about his good fortune. “I’ve had a lot of nicks over the slips this series,” he admitted. “And I don’t think that’s good luck.” That good fortune has come to me. If you push harder, the ball will go over the slips. So I’d rather err on the positive side than the negative.”
Crawley century came in 93 balls, the second-quickest in Ashes history at Old Trafford.
During his attack, Crawley reached his century in 93 balls, the second fastest in Ashes history at Old Trafford. And the praise he earned for the feat contrasted sharply with his previous century in England, an epic 267 against Pakistan in 2020, which was played behind closed doors at the Ageas Bowl owing to the epidemic.
“The audience was incredible,” he stated. “Obviously, apart from in COVID, I hadn’t scored a hundred in England, so there was no one to congratulate me.” But it’s quite nice to have the entire stadium applauding you, as well as the Aussies; some renowned players shook my hand, which was also pretty cool. It was an incredible sensation. Along the road, you have a number of poor scores and bad form. So days like these make everything worthwhile. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
While Crawley was at the crease, especially during an incredible afternoon session in which England scored 178 runs in 25 overs, a total of 500 appeared to be on the cards. However, as the ball became older and softer, the going became more difficult for England, with both Crawley and, most notably, Root surrendering to deliveries that remained visibly low.
“The ball definitely softened.” They were trying to change it a lot, and it was definitely out of shape, so it was two-paced,” Crawley explained. “Joe had such bad luck. That wicket was unplayable, and Stokesy had a couple of pop-ups and kept at him. So it could be the ball’s age, but ideally it’s the wicket, and hopefully it continues to play tricks and we bowl well [in the second innings].”
However, there is time for England to establish a lead, as well as the possibility of a declaration, given the weather outlook for the weekend.
“I’ll leave that to the bosses up there,” Crawley added, “but another 130–140 would be fantastic.” It could be just another 100 because it looks like it’s going to be difficult out there at the back end, so tomorrow afternoon could be a nice chance to bowl and hopefully grab a few wickets.”
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