Paul Collingwood has backed Zak Crawley to succeed if he wins his chance in the second Test in Hamilton. Kent batsman Crawley was taken on tour largely to gain experience and so the England management could take a closer look at him, but an injury to Jos Buttler the day before the second Test might well have created an early opportunity for an unexpected debut against New Zealand.
“Technically he looks very strong,” Collingwood, who is one of England’s assistant coaches, said of Crawley. “He’s willing to learn all the time. He’s been brilliant in the conversations that we’ve had in the nets. He’s always questioning things and that’s what you want.
“He’s good fun, he’s a good athlete in the field as well, so he ticks a lot of the right boxes. He looks very good. But you never know until you get in the pressure of a Test match situation. The signs are really good, though.”
Crawley has impressed the England management on this tour. As well as scoring a century in his one opportunity to bat in a match situation, he has also looked comfortable in the nets and impressed with his agility and fitness in fielding sessions.
Notably, the two centuries Crawley scored during the 2019 County Championship season were against attacks containing fast bowlers. He made 111 against a Nottinghamshire side which included James Pattinson – nobody else in Kent’s top six made it to double-figures – and 108 against a Warwickshire side containing Ryan Sidebottom and Henry Brookes. And it is ability to play the short ball which is one of the areas that has impressed Collingwood.
“Certainly, anything from waist height upwards he looks to be able to handle,” Collingwood said. “And playing short pitched bowling is crucial in these conditions. He times the ball really well, too; he hits the ball hard for a big lad.”
By a “big lad” Collingwood certainly does not mean that Crawley is carrying an excess weight. Far from it. Instead he stands at 6ft 5in and looks as fit as anyone in the squad, with the possible exception of Ben Stokes. At training on Wednesday, it appeared as if he deliberately slowed down not to embarrass his captain, Joe Root, who had joined him on multiple circuits of the boundary.
Crawley is still very much at the developmental stage of his career, though. He is just 21 and, as his first-class batting average of 31.27 illustrates, he is still learning his game. Having played a great deal on the seamer-friendly surfaces at Canterbury, however, those figures are not, perhaps, quite as modest as they seem.
Collingwood is equally optimistic about the prospects for the rest of this side’s batsmen. As a member of the team that won the Ashes in Australia in 2010-11, he thinks he knows what it would take to repeat that result, saying that scoreboard pressure is a vital ingredient.
“I’m very confident that this batting unit, over time, is going to score a lot of runs,” Collingwood said. “I think the mentality of it, the way the guys are working, it feels as though we’ve got the right kind of personnel to score big runs.
“We know what Australia are going to do to us. They’re going to batter us with 90mph bowlers and make us feel uncomfortable with a spinner at the other end who will dry us up. But when we won there in 2010-11, we scored a lot of runs and then you’ve got scoreboard pressure.
“The other challenge is to get those 20 wickets. And that seems to be increasingly difficult. Sides now generally have longer batting orders and the Kookaburra ball can prove difficult to take wickets with. The old school top-of-off with a Dukes ball back in the England doesn’t necessarily work over here. We’ve found ways at times but if you look at history we haven’t really consistently found a formula or a solution.
“But we have to find a way. You can see that New Zealand have a strategy that has worked over time: you’re going to get swing bowlers up front, then Colin de Grandhomme and then Wagner to bounce the living daylights out of you. It’s a system that works for them and it’s our challenge to produce the skills out of our bowlers that work on in these conditions with this ball.
“You look back and see what we were doing well [in 2010-11], and everyone refers back to pace, but we didn’t have much pace actually. It was more down to accuracy – ‘bowling dry’ as we called it – and it was almost playing on their ego, because they wanted to score runs, because it was the Australian way.
“But teams, even Australia, don’t really play with ego any more. They’re very patient. Steve Smith shows that. So you might need a different type of bowler with some extra pace.”