England 332 for 4 (Crawley 171*, Buttler 87*) v Pakistan
Zak Crawley’s imposing maiden Test hundred put England into the driving seat on the first day of the third and final Test of their series against Pakistan at the Ageas Bowl.
Crawley, the 22-year-old Kent batsman, became the first England No. 3 to score a Test hundred at home since Joe Root in 2016, as he put on an unbroken 205-run partnership with Jos Buttler to give them every chance of posting a first-innings total that will wipe out any chance of Pakistan securing a series-levelling win in the final Test.
Despite him possessing a middling record in first-class cricket and never winning England Under-19 recognition, Crawley has been tipped as a long-term option at the top of their batting order for several years, and looked the part as he drove, swept and flicked his way to three figures from first drop.
Powering England forwards with the ruthless Buttler for company, he pressed on past the 150 mark, and has every chance of becoming England’s youngest double-centurion since David Gower on the second morning.
Despite a delayed toss, cloud cover and strong winds, it was no surprise that Joe Root opted to bat first on a wicket that both captains said looked relatively dry. Despite the early loss of Rory Burns – who has averaged 5.00 in this series – England scored at quite a lick in the first hour, rocketing along at four runs per over.
Crawley had demonstrated his positive intent early on, clipping a half-volley for four off his first ball and dispatching anything loose from Naseem Shah. Dom Sibley scored uncharacteristically quickly himself, using his feet in an attempt to throw Yasir Shah off his length after his early introduction, but it proved his undoing.
Skipping down to a length ball, Sibley tried to work Yasir to leg but was surprised by the turn, the ball skidding into his pad as Michael Gough raised his finger. Sibley reviewed, but DRS showed that it would have gone onto smash into middle. There followed a tricky passage before lunch, in which Root and Crawley had to cling on; despite both flirting at balls in the off-stump channel, they just about managed to do so.
Pakistan came out energised and refreshed after the interval, and Naseem soon accounted for Root with a ball that nipped away viciously. Root groped at it but was undone by the seam movement, edging through to Mohammad Rizwan, and Pakistan sensed an opening.
Three overs later, Yasir slid through a quicker ball on a length, which Ollie Pope rocked back to, leaving a gap between bat and pad and seeing the ball skid through onto the top of the stumps. That left England 127 for 4, and in desperate need of a partnership with only allrounders and bowlers left to come.
But Crawley looked utterly unfazed, with Buttler providing the support from the other end. He did provide a couple of half-chances, edging the relentlessly accurate Mohammad Abbas short of slip and pulling Shaheen Shah Afridi uppishly towards midwicket, but moved into the tea interval unbeaten on 97 after ticking over fluently and comfortably with a series of flicks and drives. Buttler, meanwhile, survived an optimistic review, playing and missing outside the off stump off Afridi.
He brought up three fingers with a punch through the covers off Abbas, bursting into a Cheshire cat grin and kissing the England badge on his helmet as the balcony applauded. He batted with authority before the second new ball, cover-driving Afridi for four and bringing out some deft flicks and reverse-sweeps off Yasir and part-timer Fawad Alam.
Buttler, meanwhile, looked completely assured, spanking Yasir for two sixes and a four shortly before the drinks break in the evening session and reaching his half-century with a nudge through square leg.
Afridi was profligate when the new ball did arrive, overstepping three times and going for a boundary and four leg byes, but quickly adjusted and had Crawley flashing outside his off stump twice in two overs, while Abbas threatened Buttler with the nip-backer.
And yet England continued to rocket along, putting away anything wide as Buttler eased towards what would be only his second Test hundred. His assault on Yasir notwithstanding, Buttler was generally measured in his aggression and orthodox in his approach, driving effortlessly through the covers and scoring the vast majority of his runs in front of square.
Crawley walked off with a career-best first-class score to his name – no doubt with every intention of turning his unbeaten 171 into a maiden double-hundred on Saturday morning.
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