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Crawley and Duckett have brought an end to the revolving door of England openers, according to The Spin.
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Crawley and Duckett have brought an end to the revolving door of England openers, according to The Spin.


While watching England’s run chase in Visakhapatnam, I suddenly remembered a joke that had been popular for some time. It was about how, no matter where you were in the world, if you checked your phone, you would always find England in trouble with Joe Root coming in to save the day.

The Bazball transformation has brought about numerous changes, and the most notable one is the creation of a fully operational opening partnership. As Ben Duckett and Zak Crawley stepped onto the field in the final session to start the journey towards 399 runs, the main concern was not how many wickets England would lose in the challenging late stage, but rather how many runs they could reduce from the total before the end of the day. This perspective is a reflection of the Test team’s strong identity as well as the exceptional performance of the duo thus far.

Since joining forces in Pakistan in late 2022, Crawley and Duckett have been a formidable duo, consistently producing impressive numbers. Their initial partnership was a massive 233 runs on a smooth pitch in Rawalpindi, with Duckett contributing 174 runs before lunch. Overall, their partnership average is just under 50, and they have also been performing well individually. Duckett boasts an average of 49.65 in his second stint as a Test cricketer, while Crawley holds a solid 43.37 across his last 13 Tests. Both players have a quick pace, with strike rates exceeding 85.

However, the most remarkable statistics will come in the upcoming Test in Rajkot. If they play two more innings together, they will reach a total of 27, becoming England’s longest-standing opening partnership in Tests since Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook’s partnership over a decade ago. While Rory Burns and Dom Sibley lasted for 26 innings, their style of play was vastly different from that of the current pair.

After Strauss retired in 2012, there was a constant turnover of players at the top, with some being ruthlessly cut after a few poor performances. Meanwhile, Cook remained at the other end, possibly wondering if he would ever find success again. Among the players were experienced veterans from county cricket (Nick Compton, Michael Carberry), aggressive white-ball players trying to prove themselves in red-ball cricket (Alex Hales, Jason Roy), lower-order batsmen tasked with solving the team’s issues (Root, Moeen Ali), and those who quickly scored their first century but couldn’t maintain their form throughout the summer (Adam Lyth, Sam Robson).

Burns provided some stability after Cook’s departure, but faced constant criticism for his unorthodox technique. He eventually lost his spot on the team after the 2021-22 Ashes. Meanwhile, Crawley, who was Burns’ opening partner during that humiliating series, managed to keep his place on the team. However, his performance was not always consistent, and he often struggled with catching behind the wicket. Despite this, he remained in the starting lineup, with his impressive 267 against Pakistan becoming a distant memory due to the impact of the pandemic. As the first summer under Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum came to an end, Crawley’s opening partner Alex Lees was dropped, despite having a slightly higher average than Crawley in seven home Tests (Lees with 25.15 compared to Crawley’s 23). McCullum claimed that inconsistency was expected from a player who relied on making big shots, and that Crawley was there to create memorable moments. However, some viewed this favoritism towards Crawley, whose longtime mentor Rob Key was now in charge of the England men’s team, as problematic.

Reworded: Crawley credits the addition of Duckett as a significant turning point in his career, although it may have taken him some time to adapt to the change. In an interview with Wisden Cricket Monthly after the 2023 Ashes, Crawley admitted that he had not fully embraced the new approach when Baz and Stokes joined the team last year. It wasn’t until the winter season that he ultimately decided to play more aggressively and follow his own game plan. Looking back, Crawley wishes he had made this shift earlier in his career.

When Crawley and Duckett bat together, it’s a perfect combination. Crawley, who is 6ft 5in tall, confidently steps forward and hits the ball straight. Meanwhile, Duckett, who is 5ft 7in and used to a different playing environment, is able to hit anything that comes his way outside the off stump. This left-right pairing is even more challenging for bowlers to handle. Despite not having impressive records in the past, they fearlessly took control of their game. Now that they have proven themselves, any mistakes they make can be easily overlooked.

England’s Ben Duckett impressed when he paired up with Zak Crawley in the 2022 tour of Pakistan.View image in fullscreen

They have started off strong in India, where the threat is not as significant at the beginning. Jasprit Bumrah is most dangerous when he is warmed up and using reverse swing, while his partners Mohammed Siraj and Mukesh Kumar have not been as involved. So far, there have been three partnerships worth at least 50 runs, with the exception being a partnership of 45 runs in less than 10 overs. Ben Duckett continues to get useful starts, while Zak Crawley scored two impressive scores of 70+ in the last Test. And then it becomes clear: these two are the ones consistently making shots, reminiscent of a student night out.

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One could argue that England could benefit from taking a different approach, reflecting on the similar words McCullum used to describe Crawley a few years ago. Even if they have a few unsuccessful performances, they will be overlooked if one of them can make a significant impact in a match or series. However, this could just be traditional thinking from experienced commentators, as attractive fifties don’t necessarily guarantee success. This team, on the other hand, does not follow traditional norms.

At the moment, it is evident that this pairing is successful. After ten years of consistently dismissing top-order batsmen who prioritize defense and aggressive runners, this will suffice.

This is a snippet from The Spin, a weekly cricket email from The Guardian. To receive it, simply go to this webpage and follow the directions.

Source: theguardian.com