England batsman Zak Crawley desperate to break hundred duck

Zak Crawley should finally get to stick on his pads as this second Test moves into day four at the Ageas Bowl. The first innings of the match is still to be completed, with the tourists 223 for nine.

The forecast for Sunday and Monday is not altogether much better. But it will be enough time to bowl Pakistan out and allow England a decent bat. For Crawley, due to bat in the top four, he has another chance of realising a grand ambition.

“I think about it all the time,” he said on day three, which was abandoned without a ball being delivered. The “it” is a Test century. In 10 innings so far he has passed fifty twice, but not quite made the jump to three figures.

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As it happens, it’s a journey he has only made three times in first-class cricket. He had four, scored in a warm-up match on the Sri Lanka tour which was called off in March due to the escalation of the Covid-19 pandemic, but that has since been downgraded from first-class status due to England substituting Matt Parkinson into the game after Ben Stokes picked up an abdominal injury.

But he has come close to the feat at the highest level, with a 76 scored against West Indies in the first Test of the summer at this same venue. And Saturday evening will be just like the other evenings he has had since making his debut against New Zealand last November, filled with thoughts of removing his helmet and saluting that maiden hundred.

“I pinch myself thinking about scoring a hundred in my room at night, said Crawley. “I massively want to score a hundred for England. I don’t want to put myself under pressure, I feel that could create too much pressure as I get closer. I’m trying to score in little sets of 10. No doubt, the first one is probably the hardest to get so I’m very much looking forward to the day I hopefully can get one. There’s a lot of hard work yet.”

The yearning for that milestone is somewhat out of character for a person who does not believe whole-heartened in statistics. Crawley uses the example of his Kent teammate and friend Joe Denly, once an international teammate before his axing after earlier this summer, who had not registered in the Test century column, with just six half-centuries from 15 caps and an average a shade under 30.

“That’s a picture where stats tell a lie,” he said. “There’s no hundreds next to his name (Joe Denly) but he played some crucial knocks for England. That 94 against that attack (Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, Peter Siddle and Nathan Lyon for Australia in last summer’s final Ashes Test) is as good as any hundred against a lesser attack.

“People say he never got a hundred but that was one of the best knocks of his life. It’s interesting the way things play out. He scored some great runs in New Zealand, fifties in South Africa on tricky pitches like the first innings in Pretoria on a tricky wicket. He’s scored some great runs.”

“But the currency is hundreds,” admits Crawley. “I don’t necessarily agree with it but it’s what we’re all chasing.”

Of his work so far, the average of 26 does not say much, good or bad, especially for a 22-year old who learned in county cricket as an opener but has now batted three, four and six in Test cricket.

“Stats tell you one picture and there’s a whole different story. I’d rather focus on how someone plays than their stats. I’m still impressed by some people’s stats. If someone averages above 50 in Test cricket I’m not going to say ‘he’s no good’. At the top end of stats, I admire them, but sometimes there’s a different picture to what you see.”

Conveniently, how Crawley plays – tall, dominant and accumulating quickly – has been the major attraction for coaches and selectors alike. He knows and has seen in the case of Denly that aesthetics only take you so far. And for his own restful sleep, he will be hoping that difficult first century, elusive for Denly, comes sooner rather than later for him.

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