Zak Crawley played really well on Thursday and you could see the technical work he has done over recent months coming to fruition.
What has looked extremely promising for him so far this summer is that he has tightened up his technique and on Thursday he was lining the ball up nicely once more.
Previously, he had a very wide batting stance, and in New Zealand earlier this year he was playing quite a bit out in front of himself.
Since then, he’s narrowed his stance and that has meant he has got his weight and his head much more over his front foot, which has improved his whole balance at the crease.
When his weight was back, he pushed his hands out in front of his body with a braced front leg whereas now he can play the ball later right underneath him, and bend that front knee into the drives.
Zak Crawley’s technical work has resulted in improved balance at the crease and a narrowed stance
The England opener struggles when the floodlights come on and the ball starts to move a bit
The opener was going well before being stumped by Alex Carey off the bowling of Nathan Lyon
He’s always driven well through mid-on but some of the drives through extra cover recently have highlighted that he’s now in a really good place.
Albeit that it was on an Edgbaston pitch upon which the ball didn’t move a lot, the first ball ‘bang’ off Pat Cummins to mark the start of this Ashes series highlighted the touch he is in – technically, he is getting into much better positions when he is facing the seamers.
England coach Brendon McCullum has said that Crawley’s game is suited to being inconsistent – as we saw in the last game in Birmingham. He looked a million dollars. Then, when the floodlights came on, he nicked off.
That pretty much sums up his career: when it’s doing a bit, he looks vulnerable and when it’s not he looks a world beater. Hence, he averages 31 in first-class cricket, and 29 in Test match cricket.
Crawley has shown himself to be a player who can make big hundreds, and double hundreds, but his challenge now is to achieve greater consistency, building on that tightening up of his technique by working on the mental side of shot selection.
As I say, he played brilliantly on day two for his 48, following a 66 in the first innings of the series at Edgbaston and he is not far away from completely silencing the doubters.
But even in the times of Bazball – and being backed by Ben Stokes, McCullum and Rob Key – for your own peace of mind you want to cash in when you are playing so well.
He will perhaps look back here on a 48 when he was ‘in’ knowing he needs to develop a more ruthless nature.
The Kent opener has long had the backing of captain Ben Stokes (left) and coach Brendon McCullum (right)
He will perhaps look back here on a 48 when he was ‘in’ knowing he needs to develop a more ruthless nature
Because as an opener in England, he will know that he can turn up at Headingley next week and it will be zipping around. Openers can nick off in that situation early and 48 followed by a single figure score leaves you under a bit of pressure.
You might say: Well, isn’t that the same for everyone? Well, yes and no. Think of an opener of yesteryear like Andrew Strauss, who would maybe average 42 when it was flat and 37 when the ball was moving about. Crawley’s challenge is to get his own gap closer together.
Soft is a harsh word but the sort of softness he showed getting out to Nathan Lyon needs to be removed.
Along with Ben Duckett, Crawley had seen off that new ball and was then confronted by Lyon, an off-spinner who is difficult to get down the pitch to – he’s already got Jonny Bairstow, Moeen Ali and Joe Root out stumped – the only time Joe has ever been stumped in first-class cricket – in this series.
The reason Lyon has been able to get so many of those particular dismissals is because he gets drop and dip on the ball due to the over spin he gets on it.
His skill is to make a batsman think the ball is there to hit when it’s half a yard shorter than visualised. So the shot selection when you leave your crease has to be spot on.
For a batter, you better make sure you are getting to the pitch of the ball and if you’re not getting there, kick it away and get back in your crease.
Ben Duckett has just 12 leaves in his last 12 Test matches highlighting his positive approach
The openers put on the highest first-wicket stand in an Ashes Test for England since 2010-11
Crawley and Duckett played brilliantly, going along at five an over, to emphatically answer the question: can you do it against Australia?
People also asked whether Duckett could score runs against Australia without leaving the ball? There you go, he can. That’s now 12 leaves in 12 Test matches. He just plays it differently.
For traditional openers in England like Geoffrey Boycott, Michael Atherton and Graham Gooch, the leave was a massive part of their armoury. For Duckett, it is not.
And there was lots to be positive about in both contributors to England’s biggest opening stand in an Ashes match since 2010-11.