Zak Crawley: County pitches must improve to give England batsmen a chance

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England opener Zak Crawley has called on First Class counties to prepare better pitches to give English batsmen a chance to flourish on the Test stage. 

Crawley was recalled to the England team for the third Ashes Test in Melbourne despite enduring a wretched 2021 in which he averaged just 10 in red-ball cricket. After struggling at the MCG, he vindicated his selection in Sydney, where he top-scored in England’s second innings with a fluent 77.

England clung on for a draw at the SCG but are still condemned to a heavy series defeat in Australia, largely due to the deficiencies of their top order. Only one player, Jonny Bairstow, has scored a century, while Crawley is one of just five to have gone past 50 so far. In 2021 only Joe Root averaged more than 30 in Test cricket for England.

The poor quality of county surfaces has been cited as one factor in England’s batting struggles and Crawley endorsed that view as the team prepared for the final Test of the series in Hobart, which begins on Friday.

“I’ve batted on poor pitches really my whole Championship career,” Crawley said. “I feel like it’s been very hard to open the batting.  I got picked with a [First Class] average of 30, which is less than normal but there aren’t too many openers [in England] averaging a lot more than that at the moment. 

“The pitches have been very favourable to bowlers my whole career so far, so until that changes, I feel like [my average is] a little bit lower than I’d like. I think 34 to 35 is a very good average for an opener these days and that’s something that’s very different from 10 years ago.”

‘A country-wide problem’

Nasser Hussain, writing in his column for the Daily Mail, suggesting that Crawley might consider moving away from his county, Kent, to one “with flatter pitches and getting big runs to ready himself for international cricket”.

But Crawley, 23, insisted that was not part of his plans. “As long as I’m playing for England. I don’t see the need to [move counties].” he said. “So, as long as I’m wearing the three lions, I haven’t really given it much thought, to be honest, because that’s my sole focus at the moment.

“I don’t think it’s a Kent thing. Obviously, I’d like the pitch at Canterbury to be a little bit better. I don’t think that’s unfair of me to say. But I don’t think it’s just a Kent thing, I think pretty much all the grounds I’ve played on have been pretty poor. 

“I can think of about two or three where I’ve got to them thinking that this is a really good wicket. I think it’s more a country-wide problem and I think it will help our Test team a lot if pitches did start getting better.”

Crawley believes his torrid experiences last year will help him in 2022. “Playing in India against that spin and then the other night at the MCG in that final session of the day, they’re the two hardest spells of cricket I’ve ever had, by a long way,” he explained. 

“I wouldn’t have thought that it would get much harder than those two experiences. So, you’ve just got to take them on the chin and move on and learn from them. That’s what I’ll try and do. 

“Cricket’s a game where you fail a lot more than you succeed. So, it’s been a good year for me to try and pick myself back up and go again, and see how many times you can keep coming back and improving. I feel like I have improved and a better player than I was a year ago. And that’s what I am going to look to do this year, be a better player than I am right now.”

Head coach Chris Silverwood will also hope that England’s players are better than they were the last time he saw them, in the aftermath of the MCG Test, shortly before he tested positive for Covid. 

Silverwood returned to the England camp in Hobart today, along with his family (of which two members also tested positive), after having had to watch from an isolated room in Melbourne as his team put up their best performance so far in the draw at Sydney.

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