Why it can be hard to get all fired up about Zak Crawley

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4 minute read

Zak Crawley is not a popular man in some quarters. If you want a measure of this, you could do worse than count how many times his name cropped up in this week’s discussion about wicketkeepers.

“And yet Zak Crawley still gets picked,” was a common reaction to the news that England had dropped “the best wicketkeeper in the world” for the Test against Ireland and presumably also the Ashes that follows.

A lot of people couldn’t help but set Ben Foakes’ strong recent Test performances alongside Crawley’s ongoing mediocrity to trigger paroxysms of befuddlement in themselves. “How can this be? HOW CAN THIS BE?”

Well, the short answer is that it can ‘be’ because they do different jobs. You can have whole flocks of truly exceptional milkmen vying for your business, but you wouldn’t hire one to toe and heel your bifold doors so that they open properly. You need a specialist for the latter job, even if that person does sometimes shatter glass panels and routinely forgets to fit the external gasket properly and still hasn’t actually got the doors working properly and, you know what, maybe you should just give one of the milkmen a go. How bad could it be? But no, that is a bad idea. The specialist might get there eventually and that’s probably your best bet right now.

The middle man and the top man

Jonny Bairstow may have batted in every position from three to eight in Test cricket, but he has never opened and England don’t want him to, regardless of his successes against the white ball. Quite understandably, England want Bairstow in their middle-order. So that’s what they’ve gone with even if the arrival of Harry Brook means he is now having to make a slightly different spot his own.

That’s tough on Foakes, who’s perhaps now tempted to ask Surrey if he can do a Bairstow and improve his odds of England selection by taking on another job. Maybe he could try his hand at opening the batting?

But therein lies the problem, because Surrey’s opening partnership is the aesthetically-challenging combo of Rory Burns and Dom Sibley – discarded England Test openers both. County cricket is awash with former England openers. (Surrey technically also have use of Jason Roy.)

This is the crux of things: There are more viable England Test wicketkeepers than there are openers. And there are more viable middle order batters than there are wicketkeepers. So of course a great wicketkeeper is going to miss out. And of course a so-so opener stands a decent chance of keeping his place.

Promise versus performance

Who would you pick instead of Crawley? The outstanding opener in the County Championship this season is Keaton Jennings. We don’t know if you remember Keaton Jennings playing for England, but in terms of public appreciation, it was pretty much exactly the same as Zak Crawley playing for England. We won’t risk a Venn diagram, but we suspect there was considerable overlap when it came to who was expressing dissatisfaction as well.

Crawley’s Test record is pretty meh, but he is keeping his place in large part because this is what he is being measured against. Jennings had 17 Tests and averaged 25.19. Crawley has had 33 Tests and averages 27.60. More pertinently, Jennings is 30 and Crawley is 25.

If you think even young players always get dropped with averages like Crawley’s, remember that Steve Waugh only averaged 30.52 after 26 Tests – and that was batting in the middle-order. At that point Waugh had never made a Test hundred, whereas Crawley has three to his name, including a double. Conversely, some players hover around this mark and keep getting opportunities without ever really coming good. Mark Ramprakash’s Test average of 27.32 was achieved over the course of 52 Tests. England will presumably argue their selection policy has more in common with 1980s Australia than 1990s England.

Someone else then

Of course there are always options. Our own preference right at this minute would probably still be Alex Lees, who always struck us as a skilful and resolute batter who wasn’t awed by top level cricket. But we’ll concede that Lees’ case is far from outstanding – just a couple of fifties and an average a clip under 40 in the second division so far this season.

That means we can’t get too worked up about Lees’ omission. And we can’t get too worked up about Jennings’ omission either. And we can’t get too worked up about Ben Stokes not setting the milk bottles aside to magically transform himself into an opener either.

We can’t get too worked up about any of the alternatives and so we also can’t get too worked up about the continued inclusion of Zak Crawley, a young opening batter who is capable of hitting Test hundreds.

Come on, he’s a natural.

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  1. ‘A lot of people talk about scoring hundreds all the time in cricket. I am coming to believe this is nonsense. I just want to go out there and play well, and the score will come after that.’ – Z.Crawley

    1. Some England players with fewer Test hundreds than Zak Crawley…

      Jos Buttler
      Mark Ramprakash
      Dawid Malan
      Ben Foakes
      Keaton Jennings
      Nick Compton
      CB Fry
      WG Grace

      1. Sorry, I just thought we were going in order of overall cricketing importance

  2. The Steve Waugh comparison falls away a bit as Waugh was initially picked as a genuine allrounder. It’s pretty hard to find a pure batter with a similar record than Crawley at 33 tests played, Ramprakash being one. The best I could come up with someone who actually went on to improve quite a bit is Marvan Atapattu, who averaged 31 after 33 tests but ended up being a Sri Lankan rock at the top of the order for a long time.

    1. Mike Gatting after 33 tests averaged 26.90 with 1 century, he’d just started his 30 ish test run of being good.

    2. Atapattu started with four successive ducks. This permanently deflated his average, significantly at first, without causing the selectors to doubt his quality. He was consistent once he got going. Crawley is the most inconsistent batsman in Test history. He will probably score another hundred or two, but his average will never reach 30. He remains an irrational choice.

      1. Without actively arguing in his favour, we don’t really get how people can be so convinced of Crawley’s whole future. We know he’s been around a while, but he is still two years younger than Andrew Strauss was when he made his Test debut.

      2. How can we be convinced Crawley will never turrn into Strauss? I just watched Crawley fail twice in two days, both times because he doesn’t (most of the time) know where the off stump is, and doesn’t, for some obscure reason, use his height to get to the pitch of the ball. Some nice strokes, sure, but an impact player, no.

      3. No, he doesn’t exactly inspire thoughts of relentless consistency, but we always like to believe that young cricketers might still learn a thing or two.

  3. I suppose, when everyone else has decided to go for ridiculous takes it’s entirely right to pivot to clear-eyed and reasonable.

    Looking forward to your forthcoming Sensible Ashes series btw.

  4. England should actually pick a sensible opener from Division 1 who will reliably get 30+ scores. They can all do it at a reasonable rate, if instructed, thus getting a Bazball dividend. Jennings might succeed this time, although not proven against pace. Lees will never average 30. The third coming of Hameed should be resisted. Sadly, fixing the Crawley problem properly does not create a space for Flakes. Probably not even failure of Bairstow to reproduce 2022 form will do that, because he always might, you know.

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