Zak Crawley enters history books with Jos Buttler as England pull away from Pakistan

Whisper it but… are England good at batting now?

Of course, two days of cricket are not enough for such a grand statement. You would not pitch a tent at the foot of a volcano if it was dormant for as long. But as England compiled 583 for eight declared with 22-year-old Zak Crawley turning a maiden Test hundred into a mammoth 267, supplemented by what could be ranked as a “breakthrough” 152 for Jos Buttler, suddenly a card neither here nor there looked… here.

Pakistan’s misery was not restricted to their bowling. They rest tonight, finally, with chunks out of their top order: 24 for three, all to James Anderson who has three for 13 from the 35 deliveries he has sent down so far.

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As ever when an innings of the magnitude of Crawley’s comes along, there’s a lot of housekeeping to be done regarding where it ranks in history. Granted, this is often the bit in a report when people tend to switch off. But it’s worth chugging an espresso and sticking with these because there is no filler among them.

As far as maiden centuries go, this was the second-highest behind Reginald Erskine Foster, who knocked off 287 in 1903. Only Len Hutton and David Gower were younger than his 22 years and 201 days when they made their double centuries for England. Hutton also features as one of the four more youthful than Crawley to pass 250 in the history of the game. The other three are Sir Garfield Sobers, Sir Don Bradman and Graeme Smith. c

Crawley is also the seventh player to turn a maiden hundred into a double, after Tip Foster, Wally Hammond, Eddie Paynter, Bill Edrich, David Lloyd and Rob Key. For three of them, including Crawley’s mentor Key, it was their only notch in the “Test centuries” column. But you would be someone of great pessimism, the type who sees the sun and wonders when the rain is coming, to think Crawley will be a one-and-done man.

That was just as evident in day two’s 96 runs as it was in day one’s 171, which he spent the most time on. Not just because of the night’s sleep, but the 41 deliveries he dotted out on the score, 24 of them on Saturday morning before a flick through wide mid on moved him to 175. And then, again, he was off.

The shot to take him to 201, from his 331st ball, was the roguest of the lot, skewing through the vacant region between second slip and gully. And while he still stood tall in the drive and dealt with anything short, the flourishes started to emerge.

There was his one and only six, which was lifted inside-out over extra cover on the charge to Yasir Shah that formed part of the hurry-up seeing him move beyond the highest score of Key (221) – who was watching on from the Sky commentary box – which drew sarcastic applause from the England balcony as the double century turned into 250 in just 41 deliveries. That marker was also reached with a bit of flair, picking up Mohammad Abbas over the leg side from middle stump for a 32nd four.

Perhaps the most outrageous of the lot was the shot that took him to 267. Crawley’s strong Twenty20 pedigree was on show with an audacious reverse sweep to hit a ball pitching outside leg stump through cover for four. Granted, it was against the part-time off spin of Asad Shafiq but, for a moment, you wondered if this tornado of wrists and floppy blonde hair was ever going to stop.

Well, it did for the next delivery between the two: an even wider delivery evading an advancing Crawley and resulting in a leg-side stumping from Mohammad Rizwan. Nevertheless, these 393 deliveries told us more than the previous 633 of his Test career.

That he walked off with 486 for five on the board with a sense that the fun was going with him says much about how he put Jos Buttler in the shade.

Ah yes – Buttler, the most devastating batsman of his generation, who not only compiled a century of his own (a second of his career) but was also a key part of this 359-run partnership, one that now sits comfortably as England’s best fifth-wicket stand, and the sixth-highest of all time. Yet the man with three of England’s five quickest one-day centuries was trailing in the dust of a 22-year-old who has yet to wear coloured clothing at this level.

Nevertheless, Buttler’s century was welcome in its own right, both for him and the team, capping off what has been a welcome, perhaps even necessary, return to form. This second was almost two years to the day of his first, a century against India that, like this one, also began on 21 August.

More importantly, it was a hundred in the first innings, thus influencing how the match plays out from here rather than one reactive to the parameters already laid out. It was also his first as the designated wicketkeeper.

It was almost taken away from him when, on 99, he was adjudged caught behind off Abbas with Rizwan up to the stumps. Buttler was sure he was safe, and DRS confirmed it was contact with the pad rather than ball. With the very next ball, a push through the covers for three off his 188th ball faced took him to a seventh first class hundred.

He coasted for much thereafter, leaving Crawley to do the heavy lifting, and it was only the four that took him to 150 from 307 that brought to an end a remarkable 105 deliveries across four hours in which he did not find the rope. That 13th four and his two sixes would be his lot when he bunted a return catch to Fawad Alam.

That it would be Shafiq and Fawad to take the first two wickets of the day was a clear an indication of where Pakistan were at, even with the reminder of “530 for six” on the scoreboards. It did get worse, of course. It always does when you have been in the dirt for the best part of two days.

Chris Woakes, who had been the next man in for 93.2 overs, scratched his pad rash with a glitzy 40 before smaller cameos from Dom Bess (27 not out) and Stuart Broad (15) saw Pakistan finally relieved of their fielding duties after a chastening 154.4 overs.

But any sense that the final 55 minutes of play would bring some respite was shattered within eight deliveries when Broad, from around the wicket, pinned Shan Masood in front LBW. Though the review from the left-hander would go in his favour – the impact was outside the line with his defensive shot – he would be seen off by Anderson for the eighth time in his career with an inswinger that beat him all ends up. This time, the review only made him look more clueless.

A second for Anderson – Abid Ali going hard at the ball and edging to Dom Sibley at third slip – would be followed by a third when Pakistan’s marquee batsman was pinned on the crease for just 10.

The dismissal would bring about stumps and move Anderson to 596 career dismissals, encapsulating a strong inter-generational day for England that sees them 559 ahead with just 17 more wickets to get to claim the match. Time will tell if the fundamental issues afflicting this side have been put to bed. But at the very least they have guaranteed a first series win over Pakistan since 2010.

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