International Cricket

Zak Crawley says England batters should continue to attack despite defeat to India

Zak Crawley says that England will not allow their shortcomings in India to derail their positive approach to Test cricket but admits that a bit of “refinement” is needed to capitalise on their positions of dominance, such as the one that slipped through their fingers in the fourth Test in Ranchi last month.

Speaking at the Kia Oval on the eve of the county season, Crawley insisted that England had never lost faith in their attacking methods, even though they were distinctly second-best by the time the series culminated in an innings defeat inside three days in Dharamsala.

The 4-1 series scoreline, he added, could have been very different had England seized their opportunity in Ranchi. After two days of the fourth Test, India were facing a 100-plus first-innings deficit having slipped to 177 for 7 in reply to 353, only for Dhruv Jurel’s hard-fought 90 to turn the tide and allow his team’s spinners to put the pressure back on England.

“We never really lost faith and had the same attitude, as you can tell from some of our press!” Crawley said, as he joked about some of the more outlandish expressions of optimism that came out of the England camp in the course of the tour.

“We had the same attitude throughout and I don’t think that is arrogance. We genuinely believed in ourselves and thought we could win the series. We were in all the games. We certainly weren’t in the games when I was in India last time, so we gave ourselves a good chance and we weren’t quite clinical enough, like they were, to be fair.

“We should have won in Ranchi to make it 2-2 and then you never know how the last one goes, but it is always hard to wrestle the momentum back. Over five days, their skills are always going to come out, and they are a phenomenal team. It was a really enjoyable tour though, we gave it a good crack, and there is a lot to learn from.”

On a personal level, Crawley was pleased with his own performances, having been England’s leading performer for the second major series in a row, with 407 runs at 40.70 in the five Tests to go alongside his 480 at 53.33 in the Ashes. Given his struggles in the preceding two years, in which he had averaged 20.57 across 20 Tests between January 2021 and November 2022, that represented a significant uptick in fortunes.

“Hopefully I can push on from here but I certainly feel in a better place now than I did at the start of last year,” Crawley said. “Whenever I try to maintain [my form], I think you start getting worse, so I am always looking to improve.

“Against spin, I was trying to get forward to smother the ball and it kind of worked for me. My head is a lot further forward than it used to be in my set-up. But mainly it’s just my attitude. I am trying to embrace failure more and accepting it is part of the game. So, I’m trying to stick with that.”

Although he made four scores between 60 and 79, Crawley was unable to hit the heights that he reached with his remarkable 189 from 182 balls at Old Trafford during the Ashes. Nevertheless, he was part of seven opening stands of 45 or more in the course of ten innings, as he and Ben Duckett consistently took the attack to India’s new-ball bowlers, including their outstanding quick Jasprit Bumrah.

Crawley’s confidence against India’s seamers, particularly on the drive, continued a theme that began with his memorable first-ball four against Pat Cummins in the Ashes. And, in keeping with his role as the first batter in an aggressive line-up, he admitted that going toe-to-toe with the opposition attack leaders was very much part of his gameplan.

“I was certainly conscious of that in the summer against the Aussies,” he said. “I just thought, ‘there are a couple of good balls in here, I just need to put them under pressure early’, so that was more of a conscious effort.

“I feel like a bit more pace on the ball has always suited my game a little bit more,” he added. “I just think less when they’re bowling fast. You have to calm the brain and calm the mind and just react. That’s always suited me rather than the Tim Murtaghs of the world where you play seven different shots before it comes down and that has never been my forte, but I’ll try and get better at that as well.”

Crawley revealed how he had undergone laser surgery at the age of 18 to correct a short-sightedness that had required him to use contact lens, adding that one of his practice techniques when younger had been to crank the bowling machine up to full speed and play the ball from halfway down the pitch. “It was only half-volleys but obviously 90mph would feel very slow by the time you go back,” he said.

Even so, the challenge of facing Bumrah, with his high pace, wide range of skills and idiosyncratic action, is not something that can be easily replicated in training.

“I love facing the best bowlers in the world. Him, Cummins, a few others, but he would probably be the best I have faced,” Crawley said. “He bowls fast anyway and lets it go later, so it feels even quicker. Then it is just a weird action, so it is hard to pick up at times and he has got tremendous skill. He swings it both ways, with a slower-ball yorker, so, yeah, he’s a phenomenal bowler. It was tricky but I loved it.”

Though he stood out among England’s batters, Crawley’s series record still paled against that of his opposite number Yashasvi Jaiswal, whose 712 runs included back-to-back double-centuries in Visakhapatnam and Rajkot. But, he said, those efforts didn’t necessarily make him more hungry for big scores, because his best cricket invariably comes when he limits his focus to one ball at a time.

“Whenever I have looked too far ahead like that, that is how you get out straight away,” Crawley said. “Actually, a couple of those occasions I was thinking, ‘I need to get a big score’ and I wasn’t in the process. That is why – as simple as that – I got out.

“At Old Trafford in the summer, I was just trying to bat and bat time, I wasn’t thinking about getting a hundred. I was very present and it’s quite hard to get into that mindset. Whenever I’ve got into that mindset, I’ve managed to get a decent score, and if I got ahead of myself, I haven’t.”

England do not play another Test series until the arrival of West Indies in July, and so there is plenty time for the players to absorb the lessons of the India series.

“It just needs a bit of refinement,” Crawley said. “We always talk about absorbing pressure and putting pressure back on. The last couple of years we’ve done the putting back on pretty well, and we’ve spoken about maybe picking those moments to absorb at the right times as well. We can certainly refine that.

“That’s not to say we’re going to get more negative. We will still try to play the way we have and try to score quickly, but just pick those moments where they’re on top. We need to make sure we stay positive and don’t let a tough result get in the way of what we’re done really well over the last couple of years.

“[India] have won 17 home series on the spin, so it would have had to be pretty special for us to turn it over and we will not get too down on ourselves. We’ll still stick to what we know but just be slightly better.”

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket

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