ak Crawley has tested England fans and selectors’ patience in the first 18 Tests of his career.
Crawley passes the eye test, playing with an elegance few in the Test game can match right now. And he has all the shots, off front and back foot to the seamers, plus sweeps on both sides of the wicket to the spinners. He has proved himself good enough to make 267, the second-highest maiden Test hundred by an Englishman, against a fine Pakistan attack. And in Johannesburg, Ahmedabad and Sydney he has played fleetingly attractive, if not match-winning, innings.
But he has also been a frustrating watch, falling driving outside off. In 2021, he played eight Tests, and averaged less than a dozen per innings. After 18 Tests, his average was just 28, and here was no weight of first-class runs to suggest sustained Test success. For Kent (who, in fairness, play on very sporting pitches) he averages 32. The perception has been that he had all the talent and opportunity in the world, but was not hungry enough (an idea those who watch him train disagree with).
But in Antigua, 21 innings after his first, came a second Test century, just his sixth in first-class cricket. It is the first by a member of England’s top three since Rory Burns against New Zealand at Lord’s in June, 12 Tests ago. And, after Jonny Bairstow’s superb first-inning efforts, in this match, they have made more (two) than they did in their previous six matches combined (one). There is every chance that Joe Root makes it three on the final day.
Crawley has batted on more challenging surfaces, and against better attacks, than this. But England needed these runs every bit as much as he did. After Jack Leach wrapped up West Indies’ 10th wicket with the third ball of the day, England began their second innings 64 behind. Alex Lees, Crawley’s new partner, fell early, and there was plenty to worry about – especially as England could still be a bowler down in the fourth innings, even if they are making optimistic noises about Mark Wood’s elbow injury.
By the end of the day, with Crawley 117 not out and England 217 for one, that danger had disappeared. Crawley had shared 83 with Root, who is 16 shy of his hundred, and played with as much calm and control as his junior partner.
This slow Test pitch has flattened out to the extent that whichever side is batting is dominating proceedings. On day three, that was West Indies. On day four, England took over. Still, a result seems a very slim possibility, because the pitch is so sedate, because of the limitations of England’s attack, and because time has been lost to rain on a slightly stop-start day.
Crawley’s innings was chanceless but he was given out in the first over of England’s innings, lbw to Kemar Roach for nought. After consultation with Lees, he reviewed, and was saved comfortably. Alas, 10 overs later, Lees did not consult Crawley when he was given out lbw. His review was poor, and he was on his way for six – the second single-figure score of a quiet debut.
There were a few crisp boundaries for Crawley, especially through square-leg on front and back foot. But West Indies tested his patience, trying to tempt him into the sort of big drive that saw him caught behind off the inside edge in the first innings – hardly a novel dismissal. He is intent on tightening up his technique and putting away shots, and is using the much-discussed off-stump guard in a bid to take dismissals off the table.
In the company of Root, the score ticked along thanks to their sharp running between the wickets, and went up another notch when the spinners came on. Half an hour after lunch, there was a 30-minute rain delay, which Crawley took on 49. He soon brought up a 100-ball fifty, and cracked on as the Windies’ intensity dropped, cutting both Veerasammy Permaul and Kraigg Brathwaite’s spin.
After tea and some smart upper cuts for four, his hundred was reached with a clip for two off Jayden Seales, with the second fifty taking just 81 balls. Root looked as happy as Crawley, celebrating a Test century in front of fans for the first time.
From there, it was a frustrating affair. Root and Crawley – a player England are trying to build into a leader – are keen to push on to victory, and play will begin early on day five. But, even after a day they dominated, they have so much to do.