Empowered to succeed regardless of failure. Failure despite chances of success.
On Saturday, Zak Crawley recorded his last failure of the summer. India’s reserve captain Jasper Bumrah stalked in and sent down a searing delivery that Crawley had prepared pretty well, all things considered. Unfortunately, the ball straightened off the seam after being thrown, and the batsman announced no adjustment. The right-hander controlled his shot, but still went for the ball hard and pushed it Shubman Gil on the third hatch.
It wasn’t really the time to drive as cloud cover and rain in the air aided the Dukes ball, which for all its criticism is still doing what it does when it’s only four overs old. Besides, it wasn’t one to drive per se. Maybe just up, which you don’t really do in England in these conditions against this bowler.
Crawley’s recent layoff for 9 made it 23 single digits in a career 45 innings and counting. The manner indicated that it is not simply about not learning from mistakes. Such is the agony of a player in disarray, reeked of forgetting what he knew.
Crawley is now averaging 13.71 with goodwill following his 77 earlier in the year against Australia and 121 in the Caribbean before six tests long gone in the ether. But that doesn’t matter now more than ever.
“To me he is a rare talent and I don’t think there are many people in world cricket who can play like him.” Brendon McCullum spilled against New Zealand after Trent Bridge Test last week. “He will never be a consistent cricketer. It is so dynamic that it will not be permanent. But when he has his day, he will win games.
These feelings were reflected by Ben Stokes in his pre-match briefing to the written media a few days ago: “This team and squad is being given a lot of time to perform. Zak Crawley is still in my plans. Brendon’s plans for the future to achieve this Test team great again.”
And yet, if you’re a County Championship opener, especially one of those who recently got chewed up and spat out by the test side, you’d be rightly upset by all of this. A player who initially bet on potential and already has opportunities to make it right has found himself in the most accommodating elite environment for generations, maybe ever. McCullum and Stokes are only concerned about Crawley’s high ceiling being flaunted by a 267 fine against Pakistan in the summer of 2020. Even if they have to find out how low the ground is along the way.
However, what jealousy there is should only be professional. Because it’s hard to watch Crawley and wish you were him now – more irritable than ever in the middle, anxious about his walking and head down trying to block out the sighs that flit around the floor with each dismissal, like the whisper when you walk into a room that only exacerbates your paranoia.
He seems almost imprisoned by the best intentions of his superiors, hampered by their wholeness, drowned in their love. Even McCullum’s comments that he’ll never be a consistent player might shake Crawley because every hitter only wants the good kind of consistency and not the bad kind he’s enduring now. He exists in a peculiar hell at this moment, trapped in his own allegory of the long spoons, with endless amounts of support but unable to use them to support himself.
Crawley had already made engineering changes to move away from an off-stump guard. Now he’s doing universal tweaks. This test is the first with the number “6” on his back, as he made the decision to give up “36”. His favorite number – 16, which he wears at Kent – was occupied by Eoin Morgan at the time. It is in line with the 24-year-old’s current schedule that the transfer request was made and approved before news of Morgan’s departure broke earlier this week.
One of the key tenets of Stokes’s captaincy, which he outlined at the very beginning, was the duty of care he wanted to convey. That his role is as much about caring for the person as it is about promoting performance. Ahead of the game, he spoke of “doing the right thing, whether it’s pumping up your tires or whatever” when things aren’t going well for someone. But he also appreciated that after a while, “just saying that over and over again makes it sound almost like a broken record [it]”. And however stubborn Crawley may be, there will come a time when it will be best (ergo, healthiest) for him to be taken out of the XI. Not only to rediscover his wares, but a little easier to breathe before he comes back.
Unfortunately there is another aspect of Crawley and the antagonism around him that seems to be at play here. Something that in some circles only adds to the criticism of a recent series of 11 scores with no fifties, eight of which were in single digits.
He attended a fee-paying school – Tonbridge School in Kent – and his father Terry was for a time the fifth richest Briton in the world Sunday times Rich list after swapping one floor for another when becoming a town dealer after years as a carpet fitter.
This prosperity meant he could invest more than just time and effort in his son’s cricket. Crawley was able to buy a flat on Kent’s St Lawrence ground in Canterbury for regular access to their training facilities, and pay for trips to India and Perth to improve his game of spin and pace.
In many ways, it’s a great example of not wasting your privilege. And it’s backed by a work ethic that places Crawley among the strongest in the England squad. He is a regular top performer in two-kilometer time trials, and there is a consensus among fitness coaches that his yo-yo test results could surpass Sir Alastair Cook, who held the record for most of his international career. On Wednesday, as the majority of the team playing New Zealand at Trent Bridge took up the option of a light training session, Crawley was the first at the net to make shots and regain some semblance of ball touch.
Of course, none of this would matter if Crawley was scoring runs. And maybe it really shouldn’t matter. But with his opportunities unaffected by runs and the presence of his mentor Rob Key At the forefront of English cricket, a necessary conversation about form is peppered with something neither he nor this team should expect to digest.
Caught in the crosshairs of the world’s top inaugural bowlers, as well as social talking points of privilege and favoritism, is an unenviable and unfair position for Crawley to find himself in. He can only influence the former.
He has one innings left in this match which will be a lot of pressure considering England are five behind and 332 behind India in their first innings. Regardless of what he scores, he will almost certainly feature in the South Africa squad in August.
The six-week break before that can help, whether it’s white ball cricket, scoring at the net or just getting away from the game altogether. He will know that Stokes and McCullum’s opinion of him will not change during this time. Instead, he needs to figure out how her unwavering support can feel less of a burden.