India vs England 2020-21 – Zak Crawley backs gameplans as England face up to spin challenge

Zak Crawley admits that England may need to be more proactive as a batting unit to overcome another spin-friendly surface in Ahmedabad this week, but he’s confident that a reversion to red-ball cricket may remove some of the challenges associated with last week’s pink-ball Test – particularly those posed by the left-arm spinner, Axar Patel.

Patel, who now has 18 wickets at 9.44 in his two-Test career, dismissed Crawley twice in the third Test, including with the first ball of England’s second innings, to set in motion a collapse to 81 all out and an eventual two-day defeat.

Nine of Patel’s 11 wickets were lbw or bowled – and 20 out of 30 in the whole match – as batsmen on both sides were consistently beaten for pace off the pitch, as if the shiny lacquer of the pink ball was helping it to skid through more quickly than a conventional red ball might have done.

And while Crawley expects few changes to the prevailing conditions at Ahmedabad – where anything other than an England win will secure India’s progression to the World Test Championship final – he believes that England must keep faith in the gameplans that earned them a memorable victory in the first Test in Chennai, even if they have then to adapt them as the match progresses.

“I think it will be a very similar pitch this week. Why wouldn’t it be?” Crawley said. “It wasn’t easy to score, for sure. But it was the same for both sides and they played very well. We had our chance, we batted first and started well, but unfortunately we didn’t play as well as we needed to.

“But if it’s the same pitch, I do think it will be slightly easier [this time],” he added. “I felt like the pink ball was a bit harder and therefore skidded on quite quickly, which is why both sides got so many wickets lbw and bowled.

“[Axar] still has that ball in his armoury for sure and he’ll still be a massive threat with that one, but it might not skid on with the same pace as the pink ball, in which case we don’t need to change too much.

“But if it looks like it’s going to be just as tricky, and it plays the same way with one skidding and one turning, then we may need to be more proactive, [otherwise] just play your natural game.”

Crawley himself provided some of England’s most proactive batting of the winter on the first morning of the third Test, as he raced to a 68-ball half-century with ten fours, before England lost their last eight wickets for 38 to be bowled out for 112 midway through the afternoon session.

And while he acknowledged that his strong start was made possible, in part, by an early diet of seam bowling, he said he would still take great confidence from that performance, particularly after making a top score of 13 in four innings on the Sri Lanka leg of the tour, prior to the wrist injury that caused him to miss the two Tests in Chennai.

“I had the best of it facing the seamers but it was nice to score some runs nonetheless,” he said. “In these conditions, you need to have a clear gameplan before going in there, and you also need a lot of luck. But just spending time in the middle, and getting a sighter for their bowlers, I feel like I’ve got better gameplans now, and I feel confident going into this game for sure.”

Patel’s left-arm approach, however, has been a consistent issue for Crawley all winter long. He was removed by left-armer Lasith Embuldeniya in all four of his innings in Sri Lanka, and has scored just 30 runs from the 73 balls he’s faced from both bowlers, for six times out.

But, just as Patel’s offspinning partner, R Ashwin, has proven a particular challenge for England’s left-handers – not least Ben Stokes, whom he has now dismissed on 11 occasions in Tests – Crawley dismissed the suggestion that he is unusually vulnerable to the challenge of left-arm spin.