August 15, 2022

Zak Crawley is a real problem now for England captain Ben Stokes after poor return against India

The glance over the right shoulder is becoming all too familiar. Zak Crawley has been here plenty of times before and if the pre-match words of his captain Ben Stokes are to be taken at face value he will have the chance to be in similar positions again.

As a bulging Indian slip cordon congratulated Shubman Gill, whose catch completed the tame dismissal, Crawley turned on his heel and trudged across the Edgbaston turf like a man hiding his struggles in plain sight.

Amid the fervour of astronomic scoring rates, breathless chases and a belief that England had cracked the code of Test cricket under Stokes and Brendon McCullum, the 24-year-old’s struggles were easily overlooked against New Zealand.

England opener Zak Crawley was caught by India’s Shubman Gill on day two of the fifth Test

Crawley has struggled to hit double figures for England and his poor run went on at Edgbaston

Crawley has struggled to hit double figures for England and his poor run went on at Edgbaston

Crawley has struggled to hit double figures for England and his poor run went on at Edgbaston

Four times at the start of that 3-0 series win, he had nicked off cheaply only for the extraordinary exploits of others to shift the focus elsewhere.

But as the examinations of England’s bold new world intensify, as they did under relentlessly high-class seam bowling from Jasprit Bumrah and Co on Saturday, so will the scrutiny placed on a player who has now made 20 single-figure scores in his last 33 Test innings.

At Leeds last week, the Kent opener batted as if he knew his time was up, only for Stokes to go out of his way ahead of this rearranged fifth Test from the curtailed 2021 series to insist otherwise.

Such an open-ended vote of confidence was perhaps one last attempt by a captain trying to cajole a change in form.

Ben Stokes has asserted his confidence in Crawley in a concerted effort to help him find form

Ben Stokes has asserted his confidence in Crawley in a concerted effort to help him find form

Ben Stokes has asserted his confidence in Crawley in a concerted effort to help him find form

If it was not, and he does not get a score at the second time of asking here, retaining him against South Africa next month would be a dangerous precedent to set and render a selection process using county performances as its base defunct.

Plenty of others have been cast aside with superior averages to the 26.28 mark Crawley currently boasts and change should not be discounted because of a lack of continuity at the top of the order over recent years.

In a match England need to win to share the series 2-2, Bumrah’s first on-field contribution was to slam 29 runs in one manic Stuart Broad over — surpassing the previous record by one batsman of 28, jointly held by Brian Lara among others.

But it was in his more familiar role with the new ball, rather than as a tailender with licence from some long handle, that he truly placed his foot on England’s throat.

Making use of the damp conditions to zip it both ways off the surface, Bumrah struck at the start of three passages of play fractured by persistent rain showers to finish with figures of 11-1-35-3.

Head coach Brendon McCullum saw an absorbing contest as England try to level the series

Head coach Brendon McCullum saw an absorbing contest as England try to level the series

Head coach Brendon McCullum saw an absorbing contest as England try to level the series

Crawley’s grope at a wide one was wedged between a vicious jagger that clipped the pad of Alex Lees to rock back middle stump and an edge by Ollie Pope under the floodlights in mid-afternoon.

The stoppages worked to India’s advantage, providing rest periods for India’s premier strike bowler and his new-ball partner Mohammad Shami.

When Bumrah did opt for a change, however, it came with success as an uncharacteristically skittish innings from Joe Root was terminated by a brute of a delivery from Mohammad Siraj that sailed off the edge through to wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant.

There were still 25 minutes left in an elongated day’s play, yet out walked Jack Leach in an antidote to the attack-at-all-costs mantra England have used this past month.

Leach lasted all but seven of them, surviving a chance to slip and edging short of the cordon before Shami deservedly made it third time lucky with a delivery that forced the left-hander to play.

The fall of wickets becalmed the scoring rate of what has been an absorbing contest dominated thus far by the tourists.

England had targeted a quick finish to India’s innings on the second morning but found themselves in the crosshairs of Bumrah, leading India for the first time in the absence of Covid victim Rohit Sharma and catalyst for a chaotic spell of 78 runs in the opening hour.

Broad became only the sixth bowler in history to reach 550 Test wickets when Shami was suckered by a short ball but the extension of a policy had echoes of last summer’s second Test at Lord’s when the length allowed the Indian tail to free their arms to stunning effect.

The 84th over of the innings —just after Jimmy Anderson had accounted for centurion Ravindra Jadeja — was even more spectacular. Broad already has the ignominy of being one of four bowlers to concede six sixes in an over in international cricket — to Yuvraj Singh at the Twenty20 World Cup of 2007 —and Bumrah put another negative notch on his CV, swinging himself out of his feet at times in an over that cost 35 all told, the most expensive in Test history.

Punctuated by a set of four wides and a no-ball that flew off the top edge for six, it also contained some thunderous pulls that belied Bumrah’s status as a No 10. It would have left the late Bob Willis apoplectic in the Sky studio.

Edgbaston was turned blue in his memory on Saturday, earning more than £144,000 for prostate cancer.

Anderson wrapped up the innings when Siraj skied to mid-off, completing his 32nd five-wicket haul in Tests, but it was the start of England’s innings, and the continuation of Crawley’s misery, that placed the match firmly in India’s grasp.

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