Zak Crawley blames county pitches for England's batting woes during Ashes
England opener says substandard surfaces in Championship are a "country-wide problem"
Zak Crawley says that England's batting woes in the Ashes will not be improved until the standard of pitches in county cricket is raised, adding that he will stay committed to Kent rather than seeking a fresh start at a more prominent club because the issue is a "country-wide problem".
Crawley, 23, produced an eye-catching innings of 77 from 100 balls in the second innings at Sydney this week - only England's second non-defeat in 14 Tests Down Under since 2011 - as the tourists salvaged a modicum of Ashes pride by drawing the fourth Test to end Australia's hopes of a whitewash.
The innings was another glimpse of the talents of a player who shot to prominence with his career-best 267 against Pakistan in 2020, but who mustered just 173 runs at 10.81 in 16 innings in the whole of 2021, even though that tally included a similarly free-flowing 53 at Ahmedabad in March.
After replacing the under-performing Rory Burns for the third Test at Melbourne, Crawley is now part of an England batting line-up that has yet to pass 300 in eight innings of the series, but as the inquest begins into another failed Ashes bid, he is adamant that the players are being let down by the county game.
"I've batted on poor pitches, really, my whole Championship career," Crawley told reporters in Hobart, ahead of Friday's fifth Test. "I feel like it's been very hard to open the batting.
"At my best, I've obviously shown something the England selectors have enjoyed. So I got picked with an average of 30, but there aren't too many openers averaging a lot more than that at the moment.
"The pitches have been very favourable to bowlers my whole career so far so until that changes… I feel like the average is a little bit lower than I'd like. I think 34-35 is a very good average for an opener these days, and that's something that's very different from 10 years ago."
Writing in the Daily Mail this week, England's former captain Nasser Hussain suggested that Crawley would benefit from a move away from Kent to further his career. Despite currently hosting Division One cricket in the County Championship, Canterbury's average runs per wicket since 2017 is 27.11, the fifth-lowest of the 18 first-class grounds.
The Kia Oval, by contrast, tops the list at 34.67 - with Ollie Pope currently averaging 99.94 in home fixtures for Surrey, even though that prowess has not translated to success in the current campaign. He made 48 runs at 12.00 in the first two Tests before making way for Jonny Bairstow in the middle-order.
"As long as I'm playing for England. I don't see the need [to move]," Crawley said. "As long as I'm wearing the Three Lions, I haven't really given it much thought, to be honest, because that's my sole focus at the moment.
"Obviously I'd like the pitch at Canterbury to be a little bit better," he added. "I don't think it's unfair of me to say. But I don't think it's just a Kent thing: I think pretty much all the grounds I've played on have been pretty poor.
"It'd be tough for me to find somewhere maybe a bit flatter. It's more a country-wide problem, and I think it will help our Test team a lot if pitches did start getting better."
In spite of his struggles to build on that double-century 18 months ago, Crawley is adamant that his tough year at the top of the order - both on a series of spinning decks in the subcontinent, and now here in Australia - will stand him in good stead for the rest of his career.
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"Playing in India against that spin and then the other night at the MCG in that final session of the [second] day, they're the two hardest spells of cricket I've ever had, by a long way," he said.
"I wouldn't have thought that it would get much harder than those two experiences. So, you've just got to take them on the chin and move on and learn from them. That's what I'll try and do.
"Cricket's a game where you fail a lot more than you succeed. So, it's been a good year for me to try and pick myself back up and go again, and see how many times you can keep coming back and improving. I feel like I have improved and am a better player than I was a year ago. And that's what I am going to look to do this year, be a better player than I am right now."