Zak Crawley hits maiden Test century as England take command against Pakistan

Last Saturday, Zak Crawley spoke of his desperation to score a first Test century, revealing he pinches himself at night at the prospect. How it might come about, what he might feel. Any cricketer of any standard has indulged similar dreams.

Which makes Crawley’s celebration – a calm raising of the bat and gentle peck of the Three Lions badge – all the more perplexing. How was it that a 22-year old who had reached a milestone he has obsessed over for so long, having taken 171 deliveries to get there, reacted to the moment with such unerring calm?

The answer, as we found out by stumps, was because he was not done. With his innings or Pakistan’s attack.

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Having arrived at the crease in the fifth over following the dismissal of Rory Burns, England 12 for one having won the toss and opted to bat first, he would walk off three times an unbeaten man. 50 not out at lunch, 97 not out at tea and again to applause from both sides are stumps. Tomorrow morning resumes with him 171 not out and restful night’s sleep in between. Not just for him but his teammates, who he has helped to a mammoth day one score of 332 for four. They must go some way to lose this third Test from here.

If you want an idea of how green Crawley is, he is the 18th Englishman to have just three first-class hundreds before getting one in a Test match, a list that includes a few bowlers and, remarkably, David Gower who had two at the time. He has also passed his previous highest score of 168, scored against Glamorgan in 2018.

Perhaps the standout observation to be made of Crawley’s innings was that it all looked so simple. The boundaries – all 19 of them, all fours – if not struck with perfect timing were struck with intent. And not so much in the “die wondering” sense. Just bundles of clarity.

Even cycling through what he did well is a basic errand. He drove, he cut, he pulled. All from a height of six-foot-five: a welcome puncture of the well-evidenced argument that the best red ball batsmen are the shorties.

But few could argue with the evidence put forward in favour of giants here. Crawley’s forward stride turned good length deliveries from the usually frugal Mohammad Abbas into half-volleys. Anything short was cross-batted through the leg side on the front foot. And as high as the elbow got, his hands were able to go just as low, notably when he decided 131 runs and 219 balls in that he would reverse sweep leg-spinner Yasir Shah.

Until then, Yasir had been Pakistan’s biggest threat, removing Dom Sibley (22) LBW and Ollie Pope (three) bowled by a google that he has not played well this series. Shaheen Shah Afridi did for Burns for the third time this series, this time for six to leave him 20 runs from four innings this series.

That would be the visitors’ lot, though. Crawley, with the help of Jos Buttler, who finished unbeaten on 87 and the verge of a century himself, had their merry way with them, collectively 205 not out from 51 overs of immaculate batting.

There is a wider point to be made about Crawley and an innings that will perpetuate English cricket’s “Young Player Privilege”. It is as it sounds: a player of potential with a face that fits promoted above others with more years, runs and reasons to feel hard done by.

County cricket is a small place, and even though many knew of Crawley’s talents, plenty were irked last winter when this “kid” was selected for a Test tour of New Zealand last winter with a first-class average of 31 from 1,908 runs across 36 first-class matches.

Not that this was anything new. Every domestic cricketer knows those like Crawley are judged by different standards. Many of those who are now bitter had benefitted from it in the past, though the only difference between them and the Kent batsman is he was never an England Under-19.

And yes, there has been a decent amount of luck in his eight Tests. A crick in Jos Buttler’s back handed him a first appearance in New Zealand. Ruptured ligaments in Rory Burns’ right ankle gave him a second at Cape Town, South Africa, in his preferred position at the top of the order. His recall in this series for the second Test came about because Ben Stokes returned home for a family matter.

But many others to have sauntered up this gold-brick path have spurned their opportunity, in some cases because of a sense of entitlement. What is most noticeable about Crawley’s short time in the England set-up has been a willingness to scrap for every opportunity and not assume a few others would be around the corner.

He immediately came in and pushed Stokes and Buttler for aerobic fitness, the only aspect of his game he could ensure was up to international standards. Escalating scores out in South Africa gave him a tag among England coaches that he was an excellent learner on the job. Day five of the last Test was a good example of taking little for granted: a few hours of inconsequential play that he squeezed the most out of to notch a third half-century in the format.

Even those domestic numbers at the start of his Test career need a bit more context given they were compiled primarily on a Canterbury pitch that now has a bit of spice to it.

His first full campaign in 2018 saw him three in the runs (755) and averages (31), with Heino Kuhn (780 and 33) and Joe Denly (828 and 34.5). The second summer he jumped to second on the list with 820 at 34.16. But well before he had made his first-class debut in 2017, those who knew of his work spoke of a boy who had all the tools.

With those, he has carved close to the perfect innings. One that does right by his team and serves as the very best representation of his qualities. Suddenly, this England batting card seems as robust as it has done in the last five years, and Crawley is looking more and more like an integral part of it.

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