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Zak Crawley: ‘I do doubt myself but I have to keep being me’

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Right from the moment he drilled the first ball of the Ashes – from Pat Cummins at Edgbaston – for four, Zak Crawley has looked in the mood to repay the unequivocal faith that he’s been shown by Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum since the start of the Bazball era.

On the second day at Old Trafford, he delivered on that promise with an extraordinary innings of 189 from 182 balls – an innings that took the attack to Australia’s bowlers in such an uncompromising fashion that, weather permitting, England already seem to be on course for an Ashes-squaring victory.

And speaking to Sky Sports at the close, Crawley acknowledged that his pedal-to-the-metal approach had been causing him some moments of self-doubt, in spite of the relentless positive reinforcement that emanates from England’s dressing-room. However, this performance, with the series on the line, made all the harder times worthwhile.

“Today was good day for us. We are in a good position as a team,” Crawley told Sky Sports at the close, after England had rattled along to 382 for 4, a lead of 67. “It was good fun. I rode my luck at times but hit some good shots along the way.

“I do doubt myself at times but I have to say ‘keep being me’,” he added. “That is the way I play. I am quite streaky but then I go on a run. They [coach and captain] tell me to go out and have an impact at the top of the order. Sometimes I am going to have streaks of a low scores, because I’m taking a punt, but thankfully today it came off.

Speaking last summer, in the midst of a run of low scores that had left his career average in the mid-20s and his place under media scrutiny, McCullum declared that Crawley’s “skillset is not to be a consistent cricketer”. Since his series-sealing half-century against South Africa at The Oval last summer, however, Crawley has now racked up 820 runs at 43.15 and a strike-rate a notch below 90, while his century today has lifted him to the top of the run-charts for this Ashes series, with 385 from 428 balls at 55.00.

“They don’t want me to lose days like today,” Crawley added. “If I try to be more consistent, maybe I wouldn’t have a day like today. I much prefer this, a few low scores and then a big one. [Criticism] is definitely fair, because I haven’t been consistent, but I think I’ve shown that, at my best, I’m good enough for this level. I was pleased with how it went. That was more my template.

As with that first-ball boundary at Edgbaston, Crawley’s innings was once again notable for his pre-meditated aggression, not least his first-ball reverse-sweep for four that helped to drive the part-time spin of Travis Head out of Australia’s attack after just six overs for 48. And in keeping with an enduring theme of the series, he was again relentless in his aggression against Cummins in particular, whose 16 overs went for an eye-watering 93.

“It’s definitely a conscious effort to take them down, because obviously they are great bowlers who are trying to rest [between spells],” Crawley said. “When those bowlers come on, I think it’s important to put them under pressure and so that doesn’t give them time to rest and come back. I’d try to bat time and build an innings like [Joe] Root or any of those guys up there, but it’s much better when I put the bowler under a bit more pressure before they can get me. Sometimes it comes off, and sometimes it doesn’t.”

Crawley’s innings will not have convinced all of his doubters, however, even though it has now enabled his average to poke above 30 for the first time since 2021. By the time he was dismissed, his control percentage, according to ESPNcricinfo’s database, was 70.88%, having been in the mid-sixties for much of his knock. On several occasions, he inside-edged past his own stumps for four, while several flashes outside off flew over the slips for further boundaries.

The man himself, was unrepentant about the good fortune. “I’ve had a lot of nicks over the slips this series,” he said. “And actually, I don’t think that’s good luck. I’ve earned that luck. If you go harder, the ball goes over the slips. So I’d rather err on that side then go negative.”

In the course of his onslaught, Crawley brought up his hundred from 93 balls – the second fastest at Old Trafford in Ashes history. And the acclaim he received for the achievement was in stark contrast to his last century in England, his epic 267 against Pakistan in 2020, which was played behind closed doors at the Ageas Bowl due to the pandemic.

“The crowd were amazing,” he said. “Obviously I hadn’t scored a hundred in England, apart from in Covid, so there was no-one to clap me off there. But it’s pretty cool to have the whole crowd clapping you off and the Aussies too, some great players there shook my hand, so that’s pretty cool as well. It was an amazing feeling. You have a lot of low scores and bad form along the way. So days like today make it all worth it. I wouldn’t swap it for anything.”

While Crawley was at the crease, particularly during an astonishing afternoon session in which England racked up 178 runs in 25 overs, a total of 500 in the day seemed on the cards. However, as the ball got older and softer, the going became rather tougher for England – with both Crawley himself and, most notably, Root, succumbing to deliveries that kept visibly low.

“The ball definitely went soft. They were trying to change it a lot and it was definitely out of shape, which made it two-paced,” Crawley said. “Joe was so unlucky. That wicket was unplayable and even Stokesy had a couple of pop up at him and keep low. So it might be the oldness of the ball, but hopefully it’s the wicket, and hopefully it keeps playing tricks and we bowl well [in the second innings].”

Before then, however, there’s a lead for England to build, and the potential for a declaration given that the weather forecast for the weekend is not entirely promising.

“I’ll leave that to the bosses up there,” Crawley said, “but if we can get another 130-140, it’ll be really good. It may be even just another 100, because it’s looks like it’s going to be trickier out there at the back-end, so it could be a good chance to bowl tomorrow afternoon and hopefully get a few wickets.”

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