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'I still back my game against spin' - Zak Crawley hoping to prove fitness and press for England recall

Difficulties against Lasith Embuldeniya have not prompted batsman to make changes

Alan Gardner
Alan Gardner
20-Feb-2021
Four Tests into England's six-match subcontinental winter, it is fair to say things could have gone more smoothly for Zak Crawley. A difficult baptism to the prevailing conditions in Sri Lanka, where Crawley made scores of 9, 8, 5 and 13, was followed by a "freak" injury at the start of the India tour, when he slipped on his spikes outside the changing room in Chennai and the resultant wrist sprain ruled him out of contention.
Crawley is now back in training and looking to prove his fitness ahead of the third Test, a day-night match starting in Ahmedabad on Wednesday. And despite the difficulties he experienced against the left-arm spin of Sri Lanka's Lasith Embuldeniya - who dismissed him four times in four innings - he has vowed to "stick with what has got me here" rather than seek to make technical changes.
England's top three has been a moveable feast - if "feast" isn't too misleading a word - in Sri Lanka and India: Crawley opened alongside Dom Sibley for two Tests, with Jonny Bairstow at No. 3; Rory Burns then returned from paternity leave to partner Sibley, and with Bairstow rested and Crawley injured, Dan Lawrence was pushed up to first drop for the two games in Chennai.
Of the five, only Sibley and Lawrence have scored fifties - although Bairstow averaged 46.33 in Sri Lanka - the latter on debut and the former after he opted to change his approach in response to three single-figure scores. Crawley, who finished the English summer by scoring 267 at No. 3 against Pakistan, described the two Galle Tests as a "great learning curve" but intends to stick to his approach should he come up against India's Axar Patel, another left-arm spinner capable of bowling with the new ball.
"It's important not to change too much and I still back my game against spin," he said. "It's still a great learning curve for me that I need to be a bit sharper and work on a few things, doing things that I do best. There's room for improvement which is always positive.
"I'm not going to let a few dismissals change the way I play. I had a couple of good balls, I hit one rash shot. Well, I don't think it was a rash shot, I just mis-executed one shot. So for me there is no problem, I'm just going to continue playing the way I play. Axar Patel is a top-quality performer so I'm going to give him the respect he deserves. It's not a problem in my eyes, I'm just going to try to improve the way I play."
Crawley said that rather than making any tweaks, he had been paying attention to his team-mates in the nets and would focus on "using my height bit more, and getting out to the spinners and then right back" if he is picked for a recall in Ahmedabad.
"I've watched quite a few of the top players in our group," he said. "The top players keep it simple, that's what I'm going to try to do. I'm not going to over-complicate anything. Like I said before, a couple of dismissals aren't going to change the way I play too much. I'm just going to try to get better at the things I do.
"In Sri Lanka with the new ball, one went straight on, one spun. A couple spun and caught the edge, I didn't think there was much I could have done about those. And I mis-executed one shot and that was the way it went for me. I'll stick with what has got me here and try to get better at that.
"In this environment [of] Test cricket, there's a lot of scrutiny and it's very easy to change quickly. But I've played a game that's got me here so far, and a couple of Test matches in Sri Lanka aren't going to change that. If down the line it continued to be a problem, then that's something to look at that. There's obviously been a bit of talk about the way Embuldeniya got a few wickets early in Sri Lanka. But I think for me it's all about sticking with what I know, and my opinion and people's opinion who've been around me this whole time. For now I think it's about playing my game."
As for the wrist injury, Crawley has returned to batting in the nets and taking part in fielding drills, and was keen to put the incident behind him - albeit he admitted to being "slightly disappointed" that the solution to the problem, some carpet strategically placed on top of a marble floor, was already in place outside the India dressing room.
"I was one of the first players to go out on the field with my spikes on and basically my feet went out from underneath me, and to protect my head I stuck out my hand. It was one of those freak incidents where my arm took all the weight. A real shame to miss some Test cricket."
Crawley also echoed Mark Wood in suggesting that the pink ball might aid England's efforts to bounce back strongly after India levelled the series in Chennai.
"It seems to be swinging more than the red ball and doing a bit more for the seamers," Crawley said. "It seems to be a bit harder so the spinners are skidding it on a bit more as well. So it's going to play different than the red ball. I expect to see more seam in this game. The spinners are still going to have to play a big role. I'd be surprised if they produced an absolute green seamer. I think it will still spin quite a bit but the seamers are going to have a bit more of a chance than in the last couple."

Alan Gardner is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick