Following the news before the second Test that Rory Burns would miss the rest of the South Africa tour, England had a decision to make.
There were two realistic options: allow Jonny Bairstow to retain his place in the side, or call up the once-capped Zak Crawley. England opted for the latter, preferring to play someone in their natural role rather than pick a player already searching for rhythm in a position he’s not accustomed to.
How did he go?
The significance of Zak Crawley’s performance in the second Test will become clearer at the end of the series. After falling for four in the first innings, courtesy of a Kagiso Rabada snorter, he made a positive 25 in the second before edging to slip off the same bowler. A notable change in approach from the Kent opener could have been spurred on by England’s useful lead, and that innings could stand him in good stead moving forward.
He’s clearly feeling a part of things, too. Not only was his second-innings catch a superb example of reactions and clarity of thought, but his comments earlier in the week that he can take Rabada down would not have come from a young man low on confidence. Clearly, he knows he’ll be opening the batting once again in Port Elizabeth and he’s decided he won’t be backing down from any challenges.
Missed our full review of the second Test? Catch up with it here.
The wider context
In truth, Crawley has been thrust into the arena of Test cricket a little earlier than you’d imagine England would have liked. He’s 21, and likely still developing as a player. Ideally, a winter tour or two with the Lions would have been on the agenda.
Sometimes, though, needs must; Rory Burns’ injury has left Crawley with a wonderful opportunity to show the selectors exactly what he can do at the highest level. Lions tours have represented a crucial part of many a great player’s journey but there is no better test of one’s credentials as an opening batsman than the irrepressible pair of Rabada and Vernon Philander.
Should Crawley make a score or two in this series, the England selectors will have plenty of reason to believe that he has what it takes. Maybe he’d make way for Burns when he returns to fitness, but runs on this tour and, should he retain his place, in Sri Lanka will keep him firmly in everyone’s minds.
There has been talk of Keaton Jennings making a reappearance for the Sri Lanka tour; the Lancashire opener’s record on the subcontinent is excellent. Ideally, though, England would surely prefer to keep Sibley and Crawley together for an extended period of time. Since the departures of Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook, continuity has been hard to come by at the top of that English batting order. Any excuse to deliver some of that much-sought-after continuity here will likely be capitalised on.
Crawley’s positive approach in the second innings in Cape Town showed us that he’s got what it takes to score Test runs. Now, it’s just a case of doing it.
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