The first day of the final Test could not have gone better for England, nor could it have gone much worse for Pakistan. Zak Crawley scored an unbeaten 171, his maiden Test century, and Jos Buttler rattled out a blazing 87, as England ended the day on 332/4 and Pakistan sunk without a trace.
It was not just that Crawley ended the day unbeaten on 171 off 269 deliveries. It was everything about his innings—his poise and purpose, his stroke-play and shot-selection, and his late acceleration that put even Buttler to shade—that foretells a distinguished career. There were other impressive traits, like the ability to change his pace of scoring depending on the bowling and match situations. At one stage he didn’t score off 27 balls, at another juncture, he racked 40 off 27.
Just a week ago had Crawley confided of his restlessness to complete his maiden Test hundred. “I think about it all the time. No doubt, the first one is probably the hardest to get so I’m very much looking forward to the day I hopefully can get one,” he had said in Southampton.
The 22-year-old made the landmark sound elusive, though he is just eight months and 11 innings into his Test career. But he is an ambitious, hardworking youngster. Those that know him well say the hardworking trait is in his genes—his father Terry had worked himself up the way from being a carpet fitter to a financier and property developer successful enough to make it to the Sunday Times Rich List. In his later teens, he moved to a flat overlooking the St Lawrence ground in Canterbury, so that he could stay as close to the county ground as possible. His inspiration was Johan Cruyff, who lived on the ground at Ajax.
A stunning knock! How would you describe it in one word? 🔥
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) August 21, 2020
He didn’t set the first-class run-charts ablaze—his first-class average barely nudged the 30s when he was picked for England—but his talent and reputation to work hard convinced the selectors. Vindicating the progressive selection, he had looked the part straight away with an assurance that belies his age, experience, and first-class numbers. From the moment he dispatched his first ball from Shaheen to the mid-wicket boundary, then steered him through the third man for another boundary, there was a calm authority about him. A cracking pull shot of Naseem Shah showed he’s not daunted by pace.
Neither he is by spin. For a tall batsman, he was remarkably lithe against Yasir Shah, whose variations he read astutely. Surprisingly, his arch-nemesis are the medium pacers, line-and-length metronomes like Mohammad Abbas. The latter has troubled him in the county circuit, but he dealt him expertly by batting outside the crease to counter the movement. At times he even walked down to the track to work him off the legs. Like the brace that took him to 99. In the same over, he completed his hundred with a punch through covers.
Like most tall players—he is six feet five inches—he was supremely strong off the back-foot. As his innings unfolded, he demonstrated his front-foot prowess, languidly striding to the pitch of the ball and cajoling the ball through covers or extra cover, like the one crunched to complete his half-century. He made the supremely-talented brigade of Pakistan fast-bowling look pedestrian.
His comeuppance should soothe an in-debilitating headache for England since Jonathan Trott’s disappearance. The No 3 spot. Since Trott’s last Test, they have toggled with nine No 3s in 88 Tests including an unhappy Joe Root. But Crawley seems to have made a strong claim for the spot.
So has Buttler, whose place in the squad was shaky until the Old Trafford chase. His confidence unshackled, he batted with a streak of freedom that defines his limited-overs game. As a result, England accelerated. From the 65th to 75th over, they plundered 53 runs, and most of the runs flew from Buttler’s blade, who blended aggression with judiciousness. He smeared boundaries in almost every other over but seldom resorted to anything outlandish. Finally, he seemed to have struck the balance that had chequered his Test-match batting.
He was masterful in demolishing Yasir, who he punished for 16 runs in an over including two mammoth sixes back over his head. Together, they allayed fears of a collapse after England plunged from 114 for two to 127 for four with Naseem Shah snaring Joe Root with a pearler and Yasir castling Ollie Pope. That, though, was the last speck of joy for Pakistan on a harrowing day.
Brief Scores: England 332/4 (Z. Crawley 171 not out, J. Buttler 87 not out) vs Pakistan at stumps on Day 1.