back icon

News

Zak Crawley: Fearless, brave, and a Baz-ball flagbearer

article_imageFEATURE
Last updated on 12 Feb 2024 | 03:27 PM
Follow Us
Zak Crawley: Fearless, brave, and a Baz-ball flagbearer

Since Brendon McCullum has taken over, the opener has gone from just a talent to a serious attacking opener

What’s common between Brendon McCullum and Zak Crawley? Bazball. 

And between Crawley and Bazball? Fearless cricket. 

Back in 2022, Crawley seemed to be just one innings away from that axe dropping on his head. But the axe was well-controlled and operated by someone who knows all about the aggressive brand of cricket - McCullum. 

“I look at a guy like Zak and his skillset is not to be a consistent cricketer,” McCullum explained the rationale behind backing Crawley despite his middling returns - an average of 26. It was amidst a stretch of 14 innings without a Test half-century. 

Between March 16, 2022, and September 8, 2022, the Kent opener had ten single-digit scores in 17 innings.

Crawley always was a pick based on gut feeling, be it when Ed Smith had a No.3 role for him or when McCullum decided to turn his fortunes around at the top of the order. The gut feeling was that Crawley would play an attacking brand of cricket, devoid of the fear of failure. 

But the real feel of that is now coming to the fore. 

The transformation of Crawley has been such that he has gone from being a ‘droppable’ talent to becoming an unstoppable force at the top of the order of England’s Bazball philosophy. 

******

December 1, 2022. 

England vs Pakistan. Crawley’s first Asian trip since Bazball took over matters in England. 

Until then, his scores in Asia were 9, 8, 5, 13, 53, 0, 9 and 5, averaging 12.75. There were no signs of hope, nor was there an iota of past evidence that Crawley would turn a fresh page.

Dot, four, two, four, four, dot. 14 runs, and that too against one of the best red-ball bowlers at that point, Naseem Shah. 14 was the most runs England had scored in the first over of a Test in this century. 

An event that triggered a new dawn in English cricket. 

Since then, Crawley averages 43.5 in Asia. So, how has he turned around a corner in such a short period? Like many things in life, all Crawley needed was trust, which was instilled in truckloads by McCullum’s backroom staff, and the transformation was evidently in front. 

Crawley is like Lamborghini in most ways; you might not get good mileage, but the horsepower and the speed you get are not even compared to the others. In the Asian conditions since the Bazball took over, the Kent opener has scored 435 runs in just five Tests, but the exciting part lies in the strike-rate - 80.7. 

When you extend to further metrics, the 26-year-old has the second-best scoring shot % in Asian conditions - 35.4 - for any overseas opener, only behind his partner Ben Duckett. He’s scored 435 runs in Asian conditions, and nearly 70% of his runs in these conditions have come off in the first 50 balls that he has faced in the innings. 

You might feel that most of this damage has come against pacers, so what’s the big deal? 

Across the last nine innings in Asia, the right-handed opener has a strike-rate of 80.08 against pacers and 85.04 against spinners, against whom he has attacked vividly more - 41.7%.

It is a direct result of the brand of cricket that the new-age England play and something that was natural for Crawley. 

Crawley has the second-most runs for any opener in Test cricket while playing an aggressive brand, with a scoring shot % of 35.5, only behind Duckett. It is no coincidence that the right-hander has the second-lowest dot-ball percentage in Test cricket (across conditions) for an opener. 

Reach and technique against spin

From his debut till May 2022, Crawley was a sitting duck against spinners.

Amongst all SENA openers in Asia, the Kent opener only averaged 6.25 against the tweakers, with a strike-rate of 42.4. He was not attacking or spending much time at the crease, considering he got out once every 14.8 deliveries. 

Only twice did he ever score in double digits against spinners before Bazball, once against India in Ahmedabad and once at Galle in Sri Lanka. Since Bazball, Crawley has only been dismissed thrice by spinners in a single-digit score, with scores of 48 off 51, 45 off 76, 27 off 21, 34 off 25, and 40* off 34, showing great control and confidence against spin. 

In terms of numbers, he has an average of 28.71 against the tweakers while maintaining a crazy strike-rate of 83.8, showing tremendous signs of attacking gameplay. 

(On the left are Crawley's numbers pre-Bazball, and on the right are his numbers post-Bazball, where using his feet has got him much more success) 

It doesn’t end there; technically, as well; Crawley has made a big adjustment to his game since the start of Bazball. In both the series against Pakistan and India, Crawley has done one thing very effectively: putting the Indian bowlers off their plans, using his feet proactively. 

Out of the 238 deliveries he has faced of spin, the right-hander has played 196 deliveries with his feet, either on his front foot or charging at the ball. And it has led to immense success for the right-hander, who has scored 171 runs off just 198 deliveries, averaging 34.2, with 24 boundaries. 

There’s a notable difference in how the right-hander has approached the spinners from his crease. You can see how Crawley has now taken a more aggressive approach while facing spin, wherein he has used his feet to counter the ball before it starts turning. 

Even against the off-spin of Ravichandran Ashwin, it was a ploy that Crawley used extensively, smothering the ball at its root. The right-handed opener left ZERO DELIVERIES against the spinners, scoring at a steady strike-rate, putting India’s plans out of the window. 

Anything full, Crawley drove the ball through the cover region, and for anything that was on a good length, he either punched it through covers off the back foot or pierced the gap through the point region. If not for either, he whipped a powerful sweep, a paddle or a reverse sweep, often finding the gaps with relative ease.

If short ball was on offer, he crunched them on the backfoot thanks to his height, offering a counter-attacking option for every delivery that India had for him. 

*****

At 114/1, India were quickly running out of options here in Visakhapatnam, with Crawley going guns blazing. Their bowling options turned a blind corner, none capable of dousing the fire that Crawley had kick-started. 

There was absolutely nothing on the pitch for the Indian bowlers, who were in a spot of bother. Crawley’s strike-rate was almost run-a-ball, and his long leavers were leaving India short on options. If not for Iyer’s grab in the first innings, even the course of the second Test would have been a big what if. 

It wasn’t an isolated incident, either. Come the second innings, Crawley was a driving force behind England’s belief that they could pull off a chase of 399 in India on day four in under 60 overs. 

"We believe we can chase anything, and we've shown that before," is what the Kent opener had to say. 

Crawley didn’t disappoint in the run chase, with a score of 73. His dismissal there was a rather curious one, with the ball clipping the leg stump much to the surprise of Crawley, Ben Stokes and several others. 

Rohit Sharma’s celebration after the review showed exactly why Crawley has rattled the Indian team. He has been on the move, and certainly, having the backing of the management, he has turned his fortunes around. 

Just two years ago, he was on the verge of being axed from the setup, but now, Crawley is the flagbearer of the fearless Bazball era. 

Related Article

Loader