LAWRENCE BOOTH: Zak Crawley’s attack drowned out the noise from ‘Joe Bloggs having a go’ on Twitter as he crashed the first ball of the Ashes for four
- England made 393-8 on day one of the Ashes, with Australia 14/0 in response
- Zak Crawley set the tone as he thrashed the first ball of the series for four
- The opener made an excellent 61 on the first morning at Edgbaston
Zak Crawley has never been one for social media but, after the first day of the Ashes, he might have been tempted to log on.
Of all the tweetable moments of a memorable – or meme-able – day, Crawley’s first-ball cover-drive off Pat Cummins remained somewhere near the top: instant history going instantly viral.
Crawley has been critical of ‘Joe Bloggs having a go’ on Twitter. On Friday, as Australia’s captain disappeared for four a few seconds after 11 o’clock, 25,000 Joe Bloggses roared their approval. In the era of non-stop rolling news, cricket fans can be as fickle as anyone.
It is precisely this outside noise Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes have sought to ignore these past 12 months, precisely this kind of innings they have tried to encourage.
Critics of Bazball – and there are still a few, believe it or not – have often seized on Crawley’s struggles as evidence that the management have lost touch with the accumulated wisdom of 146 years of Test cricket.
Zak Crawley set the tone for the Ashes on Friday as he hit the first ball of the series for four
He made an excellent 61 in the first morning as England declared at 393-8 at Edgbaston
The opener ride his luck at times, but ultimately proved his worth to Ben Stokes’ side
But by the time Crawley pulled Cummins for four to bring up England’s 100 in the 21st over of the series, it was possible to see the logic of their regular claim that he isn’t in the team for his consistency.
He’s there because he can get a wriggle on, and by way of a bonus looks the part when he comes off.
In particular, a pair of cover-drives on the up off Scott Boland caught the eye, paving the way for an afternoon in which Australia’s supposed metronome was hit for a run a ball.
A penny for the thoughts of Mitchell Starc, ditched after costing more than five an over against India in last week’s World Test Championship final at The Oval.
There was luck, as there usually is at this level: Ultra-Edge suggested Crawley would have been on his way for 41, caught behind off Boland, had Australia bothered to appeal or review.
Yet this was an intelligent innings, in which Cummins’s defensive fields threw down the gauntlet with a cry of ‘Bazball that, mate!’ Crawley and Ollie Pope resisted the bait but took the singles and the twos, and England scored at four or five an over anyway.
Steve Waugh, who recently accused them of having no Plan B, might have been watching with interest.
Who knows what would have awaited Crawley in the afternoon had he not edged a beauty from Boland into the gloves of Alex Carey in the last over before lunch – a dismissal that umpire Marais Erasmus, one of the best in the business, somehow failed to compute.
He fell on the stroke of lunch after an intelligent innings that showed there is more to Bazball than slogging
He was eventually caught behind after gloving a snorter from Scott Boland (middle)
Still, as the players are wont to say, if someone had offered Crawley 61 off 73 balls in his first Ashes innings in England, he’d have bitten your hand off – elegantly, no doubt. And so would McCullum and Stokes.
Crawley’s Test record is, it’s true, a curiosity. He made 267 against Pakistan in only his seventh Test, then failed to reach 20 in 15 of his next 17 innings, and now averages a fraction under 29.
He has also taken part in three fastest century opening stands in England’s history, and set them on their path to over 500 on the first day of the series against Pakistan at Rawalpindi.
With inconsistency like that, you may think, who needs consistency?
It may help Crawley that McCullum sees in him a little of himself. England’s head coach has said he regrets placing too much store during his own career on his defence, which he felt was inferior to his offence.
And he doesn’t want Crawley to make the same mistake.
‘Zak has a much stronger offensive game,’ he said recently, ‘and we believe in his ability to put opposition teams under pressure. Every now and then he’s going to get out. It can happen, but if he gets going…’
McCullum’s personal interest in Crawley is said by insiders to epitomise his talent for man-management.
Mitchell Starc (pictured) was dropped for the first Test after going at five an over in the World Test Championship final, but Boland was no cheaper at Edgbaston
England coach Brendon McCullum sees something of himself in Crawley, and believes in the opener’s ability to put ‘teams under pressure’
If Crawley suffers a cheap dismissal, McCullum will check on him in the dressing-room, then insist he join him later on in the hotel bar. Lager and cigars apparently play more of a role in Crawley’s social life than they once did.
Golf has been a constant, and a useful bonding tool with the rest of the squad. Crawley’s handicap of one is the lowest in the dressing-room, edging out Jimmy Anderson and Harry Brook. Unsurprisingly, he hits a long ball off the tee.
Sceptics will say Crawley cashed in on a flat one. They will point out he is still susceptible to sideways movement. They will say he should have gone on to three figures.
And England won’t care. Their maligned opener is in the series at the first attempt, even if he doesn’t have a Twitter handle to lap up the applause.
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