Zak Crawley has admitted that it will be "slightly odd" going up against his Kent team-mate Joe Denly in a battle for the No. 3 spot in England's Test team, but thinks that the squad will benefit from increased competition for places.
Crawley opened the batting with Dom Sibley in the second, third and fourth Tests of England's tour to South Africa at the start of the year, but Rory Burns seems certain to win back his position at the top of the order this summer after returning from his ankle injury. Crawley was coy when asked if he considers himself the man in possession of an opening spot - "I haven't got an answer for you" - but looks set to be competing for the No. 3 role with Denly, who presented him with his Test cap in New Zealand.
"It is probably slightly odd, if I'm honest," Crawley said from inside the England bubble at the Ageas Bowl. "I get on really well with Joe and I wish him every success. Ideally we'd both play, and we both play together for a long while. That said, he's desperate to play for England, I'm sure, as am I, and we'll still be good friends whatever happens."
Forty-six of Crawley's 70 first-class innings to date have come as an opener, but he has experience batting in several different roles, including at No. 6 on his England debut. He has previously cited "the waiting" as the hardest thing about batting in the middle order, but insisted that he is comfortable coming in whenever necessary. It is possible that he could even come in at No. 4 if Joe Root misses a Test to be present at his second child's birth, a position he has never filled in his career to date.
"I've no preference," he said. "I've batted three pretty much my whole life, in age group and when I first started out in the county set-up. That always seemed like the place where I would bat, but in the last two or three years I've been an opener.
"I'm not really a person to analyse permutations. The way I see it, they will pick the best three players in form from what they see in the next couple of weeks. I think the whole three-week period leading up to the [first] Test will be where they are looking at it: runs in the [intra-squad warm-up] game won't hurt your standing in the side, but I think they'll be looking at the broader picture."
England trained for the first time on Thursday since their arrival at the Ageas Bowl earlier in the week, in two separate groups with various health protocols still in place. They will have four more days' training - with Saturday off - before their three-day warm-up match starts next Wednesday, and Crawley said that the competition for places within the squad could only be considered to be a positive thing.
"All the way through my career there's been competition, right from when I was a 10-year-old, all the way up to now. That's always improved me as a player, to try to get better than the people you're competing against.
"It's great to see how much competition for places there [is] across the board. I remember the Australia team in the early 2000s - some really good players didn't get in that side, I think that's why they were such a strong side. They had such good training environments where everyone's always trying to improve to get in the side and it feels like we have something similar at the moment. We've got strength in depth, and that's only going to push everyone harder and make us improve as a side."
The transition to living at the Ageas Bowl may prove easier for Crawley than some of his team-mates, given he lives in a flat at Canterbury with team-mate Grant Stewart. He moved back in with his parents during lockdown, and travelled to Hove last week to face Jofra Archer and Ollie Robinson in the nets: "I have a couple of bruises to show for it".
He has been keeping tabs on the tourists' intra-squad warm-up game, too. Crawley made his professional red-ball debut against a West Indies XI in 2017, compiling 62 in his only first-class innings at No. 3 to date. He also faced several members of the touring party in 2018, when Kent's pre-season included playing in the Regional Super50 tournament in the Caribbean.
"It was luckily quite a decent pitch to bat on and I managed to get a couple of runs. Alzarri Joseph was impressive for pace and swung the ball. I saw Raymon Reifer got some wickets yesterday - he also played in that game, and it looks like he's put his best foot forward to make a Test claim so it'll be good to see if he gets in the side.
"It was nice to face a few of them, but it seems like they've got quite a different line-up to that now apart from Alzarri Joseph, so I'll have to do my research on them and study up."