Zak Crawley sparkles as England seize Ashes control against Australia
ZAK Crawley accepts he would have been discarded under any other regime after rewarding the unwavering faith shown in him with an extraordinary 189 to put England in control of the fourth Ashes Test.
Crawley's extended troughs in form plus a batting average of under 30 at the start of the summer led to speculation he would be the fall guy for the returning Jonny Bairstow ahead of this anticipated series.
But he has been characterised as a match-winner on his day by head coach Brendon McCullum, with Crawley one of only three ever-presents in the 'Bazball' era, alongside captain Ben Stokes and batter Joe Root.
And Crawley lived up to the billing with a bustling 182-ball innings, including 21 fours and three sixes, that pushed England to 384 for four in 72 overs and a lead of 67 after two days of this must-win Test at Emirates Old Trafford.
"It's fair to say that under any other coach or captain I probably wouldn't be playing this series," Crawley said. "So, to be backed by them gives me a lot of confidence.
"They've always said not to worry about being consistent, just to go out and try to win games for England.
"I was just trying to play my natural game. (Australia have) such good bowlers that I feel if I sit there for too long they'll get me. I like to be positive against them.
"We've shown that being positive suits our players. At other times we absorb pressure but most of the time we try and put pressure back on them and get them thinking about what they're doing."
Crawley shared a punchy 206-run stand in just 186 deliveries with Joe Root, who contributed 84 after makeshift number three Moeen Ali registered 54 - his first half-century in Tests since January 2019 - to put England in pole position. However, the weather forecast for the next two days is unsettled.
Crawley admitted he enjoyed some moments of fortune even if this knock will be remembered for some swashbuckling stroke-making that would not look out of place on an all-time great's highlight reel.
"I'm a big believer in luck, to be honest," Crawley said. "If I get a bit of luck I just go 'that's my bit of luck for the day'. I don't feel like I've got away with one.
"I just feel like everyone gets a bit of luck and everyone gets a bit of bad luck and you've just got to ride that wave and I certainly got my share of luck and it came off."
That acceptance of the fluctuating fortunes of cricket also extends to off the field and those who question his place - even if he averages over 40 with six 50-plus scores in his last 11 Tests.
"To be honest that doesn't make a difference to me," he said. "The only thing that matters to me is enjoying my cricket and playing well.
"What other people have to say about myself is none of my business and I don't really care. I just try and get better each day. This innings doesn't change that."
While he confessed to being a "stubborn" character, Crawley revealed he has at times doubted himself, including in this series after four scores between 33 and 61 in the first three Tests.
"Those thoughts always come into your head," he added. "At Headingley I played a couple of nice shots and didn't convert them. I was thinking too much about the score rather than being immersed in the moment.
"Baz (McCullum) talks about being present. I was a lot more present here and I think that helped me get a big score rather than worrying about getting a big score before getting there."
Australia appeared shell-shocked by what unfolded, especially between lunch and tea as England scored 178 runs in just 25 overs, while their day might have worsened as Mitchell Starc landed awkwardly on his left shoulder after diving to stop the ball late on, briefly leaving the field before returning.
Assistant coach Daniel Vettori said Starc was icing his shoulder afterwards although Australia are "pretty confident he will be all right".
As for their confidence levels after England's onslaught, Vettori added: "This was the first day that our press was met with them going to seven an over.
"This was that perfect storm of them coming hard at us and us not being able to come back and get some with wicket taking options."