@Yas_Wisden 3 minute read
No.3 in Wisden’s Test innings of the year, part of the 2020 in Review series, is Zak Crawley’s 267 against Pakistan, an extraordinary breakthrough performance that proved a lot of people wrong, and a select few very right.
Zak Crawley 267 (393)
England v Pakistan
The Ageas Bowl, Southampton
August 21 – 25
“What James [Taylor] and I saw was someone whose game went up with the level of the cricket. That’s what you’re always looking for as a selector; it had happened with Trescothick and Vaughan. Partly, it’s because Zak’s got a good back-foot game. Also, he’s worked really hard on his play against spin — for example, he went to India off his own bat.
“Every time I went to see him play for Kent, the more closely the cricket approximated to the challenge of a Test match, the better he played. Against Surrey at The Oval in July 2019, he was facing Morne Morkel and Sam Curran, and got 69 but it was the class of that 69.”
These were the words of Ed Smith after he included him in England’s squad for their tour of New Zealand in 2019. Say what you want about Smith’s tenure as national selector but the elevation of Zak Crawley into the England Test set-up when he had just three first-class centuries to his name was nothing short of a masterstroke.
There had long been murmurings at Kent that they had someone a bit special coming through their ranks, but while there was an appreciation that his presence in a new-look England squad in 2019 was a selection with an eye on the future, his first-class average of 31.27 raised eyebrows when Smith included him for the tour of New Zealand. An inauspicious debut at Hamilton in place of the injured Jos Buttler only added to the sense that however high his ceiling may be, his first taste of Test cricket might have come too early.
Another injury, this time to Rory Burns, offered Crawley a second chance in the subsequent tour of South Africa and Test by Test, you could see why his long-time admirers were so excited. Unfazed by the speed of Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje, it was evident that this was a batsman who had more time at the crease than most.
Crawley improved on his Test-best score in each of his first five Tests; there were encouraging signs but there still hadn’t been that match-defining knock, a performance that would silence his doubters who, understandably, were still pointing out that his first-class average was in danger of dipping below 30.
That all changed at Southampton during the last Test of the summer where Crawley laid clear the extent of his immense potential. Coming in at three in gloomy conditions against a fired-up Shaheen Afridi in the fifth over the game, Crawley got off to the perfect start, clipping the left-arm quick to the mid-wicket boundary off his first delivery at the crease.
He withstood the gnawing presence of Abbas and the pace and movement of Shaheen to settle English nerves before slowly showing off more and more of his range of shots. Unlike other England top-order batsmen in recent times, Crawley did so much more than just survive, though. He utilised that extra time he had at the crease and his quick feet against Yasir Shah to actively put pressure on the opposition.
There were too many memorable shots to pick out just one; the pull off Naseem, the straight drives, the reverse-sweep out the rough, the Williamson-esque dab underneath his eyes down to third man, he really did pull out all the shots. The most unbelievable aspect of this mind-blowing performance was how easy this 22-year-old made it look.
The records tumbled as the innings progressed and before you knew it, he was gone, not quite getting to the pitch of an off-break from Asad Shafiq off all people. By the end of it, he joined the club of batsmen to score a Test match 250 before turning 23. Its other members? Garry Sobers, Len Hutton, Donald Bradman and Graeme Smith. Ed Smith’s eyes had not deceived him that day at The Oval in 2019.