The Test career of Crawley’s mentor, Rob Key, serves as a cautionary tale
Zak Crawley isn’t really the sort to go in for tubthumping, nor would he ever claim to be the one and only. But he has insisted he doesn’t want to be remembered as a “one-hit wonder” as he heads into England’s series in Sri Lanka looking to build on his breakthrough as a Test cricketer.
Crawley’s most recent Test innings was a monumental 267 against Pakistan, his maiden international hundred. It was an innings of both class and enormity that seemed to announce him, at 22, as a major new talent on the world stage, but while Crawley admitted he took confidence from the performance, he said that he still has a lot to do to secure a long-term place in the side.
That’s understandable, for Crawley’s mentor is the former Kent batsman, Rob Key. And while Key looked to have secured his place in the England side for the foreseeable future when he scored 221 against West Indies at Lord’s in 2004, just six months and six Tests later, he was dropped and never recalled. It would prove to be his only Test hundred.
“I took a lot of confidence from that,” Crawley said of his double hundred, speaking after England had trained for the first time since arriving in Sri Lanka. “You never really know you can score a Test hundred until you get one. It’s kind of a monkey on your back until you get it. Now I know I can, and hopefully I can build on that.
“I’ve always had belief in my own ability and that I might be able to play for England and play at Test level one day. But I wouldn’t have thought it could happen this fast. I’ve loved every minute of it. I’m very happy.
“But it is very early days and I don’t want to be a one-hit wonder, get a big score and then fade away. Hopefully I can secure my place and I’m not going to be living off that innings for too long. I’ve plenty more runs to score to secure my place in the side.”
It’s more than one innings Crawley has to build upon, though. He also started the aborted Sri Lanka tour at the start of 2020 in impressive style, scoring a century in a warm-up match. While he played down the achievement – he said it was a very flat wicket – it surely bodes well that he was able to prosper in hot and humid conditions, in addition to the fact that he has a Test double century against an attack including the legspinner Yasir Shah.
“I would say No. 3 is my favoured position. When I was young I wanted to bat three and all my heroes batted three. Then I got a good score at three.”
Crawley will not be in his favourite role if he opens the batting in Sri Lanka
He also credited previous tours in helping him gain the required experience. “The pitches when we came here last year were very good for batting,” he said. “But I certainly enjoyed the two weeks here. I loved Sri Lanka – it’s a great country – and in cricket that is half the battle. When you’re in a good place like that it’s easier to play well.
“I’ve been to India twice on Kent academy trips and Sri Lanka once before on an academy trip. And then obviously I came to Sri Lanka last March. So I’ve done quite a bit of work on playing spin.
“It’s mainly been about working on my defence. The ball doesn’t spin as much in England and maybe spins differently, so our defences aren’t quite as tight as they need to be naturally. And that’s something we need to work on. A strong defence comes in handy and gives you a chance to attack later down the line.
“Yasir is a great bowler and I managed to play him quite well. That did give me quite a bit of confidence.”
It seems Crawley will have to adapt to a slightly different position on this tour, though. Having started to settle in at No. 3, the absence of Rory Burns – on paternity leave – means it is likely Crawley will be promoted to open. Despite having spent much of his time at Kent as an opener, he admitted he would prefer to stay at No. 3.
“I would say No. 3 is my favoured position,” he said. “When I was young I wanted to bat three and all my heroes batted three. Then I got a good score at three.
“I quite like the way it worked. I had a little chance to think about the innings before I went in. But it means a lot to play for England and if they want me to open then I will open. I see the top four as all pretty similar roles, to be honest. I’m happy to bat in any of those positions. But if I get a choice then maybe I’d bat three.”
Wherever he ends up batting, you suspect Crawley’s calm head, dedication to his craft and hunger for success will go a long way to assuring him a long career. There’s something of the eye of the tiger about him that suggests he’ll be no flash in the pan.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo