Zak Crawley believes England’s inexperienced members will learn from the last two weeks after a tough period both on and off the pitch.
After starting the year with three wins in a row, including a first in this series against India to go one-nil up, the hosts have fought back emphatically to seize a 2-1 lead going into the final Test on Thursday. Amid a gruelling trial by spin instigated by Ravichandran Ashwin and Axar Patel has been a level of scrutiny many of those on tour have not experience before. The kind that only comes in when you are up against it in a marquee series.
Former cricketers have been lining up to take shots at the techniques on show during the third Test, which England lost in two days, bowled out for 112 and 81 in a 10-wicket defeat. As such, the noise around social media has been vast with the likes of Michael Vaughan and Kevin Pietersen – both with a million-plus followers – laying into the tourist’s batting. Things reached a head last Thursday when opening batter Rory Burns took exception to a tweet in jest from women’s spinner Alex Hartley.
The incident was dealt with by ECB managing directors of both codes, with Ashley Giles and Clare Connor confronting the matter internally. But it spoke of the irritation within the camp at the manner of the discourse around their consecutive defeats, a feeling exacerbated by confinement in their hotels as part of the bio-secure bubble.
“It’s a great learning curve, not just the on-field stuff but the off-field stuff,” said Crawley. “I’m fortunate I don’t have social media but I’ve heard from a few of the lads who do that quite a bit was said about that game. It’s all about dealing with that stuff at this level.
“That’s one of the biggest differences to county cricket, dealing with exterior pressure people put on you and that you put on yourself because you want to do well. It’s a great learning experience for us and if we can perform we’ll take loads of confidence down the line.”
It is worth noting 10 of the 17 England have used in the series so far are on their first tours of India. Many of those have been part of ‘work experience’ visits with academies and ECB programmes. And while those aid preparation to a degree – Crawley himself attended a camp in Pune and worked primarily on his defence against the turning ball – nothing can truly prepare a player, specifically a batsman, for the challenges against top-class spinners.
Crawley’s one appearance so far has included two knocks on different ends of the spectrum. His 53 in the first innings was not just the highest by an Englishman in the previous Test but the highest score posting by a visiting batsman since the first match of the series. The 23-year-old followed it by being dismissed off the first delivery of the second innings.
“I probably had the best of it facing seamers early,” he said, modestly. “But still nice, nonetheless”.
His diamond duck was handed to him by Axar Patel. Beyond the ignominy of the immediate demise, there was no shame on falling to the left-hander. In fact, Patel has been a series-changer for India, coming in for the second Test on debut and heading into his third cap with 18 in the bag at an average of 9.44. Crawley was one of 11 (for 70) the left-arm spinner picked up in the Ahmedabad last week.
“He’s a very good bowler, especially in these conditions,” praised Crawley. “Extremely accurate. He doesn’t give you much to score and he’s got one that goes on and one that turns. We’ve played against a few good bowlers in this series and managed to score some good runs, no reason we can’t get more this Test match.”
Crawley refutes the idea that England’s problems are specific to Patel, or indeed that there is an outright spin problem when you throw Ashwin into the mix. The pair have 42 wickets between them.
“If it’s spin from both ends i’m gonna get out to one of the spinners, unless I get 200 not out or something. You’re gonna get out one way – one of them is an off-spinner, one of them is a left-armer.”
But the opener does feel now is as good a time as any to take some of the run-scoring burden off Joe Root’s shoulders. Of the 1,173 runs off English bats, 333 (28.4 per cent) have come from the captain: more than twice as many as the next highest scorer, Ben Stokes, with 146 at an average of 24. With one last push for a 2-2 scoreline that will rank as a considerable achievement, Crawley feels they owe it to the 30-year-old to step up.
“He is an unbelievable player and if you know Joe like we all do, you’ll know he absolutely loves all that. I don’t think he minds carrying that load at all, I think he loves performing for England like he always has done throughout his career. We know how much it means to him and given the performances he has put in this winter, it would be nice if we could all chip in for a good team win this last game.”