It presumably doesn’t involve pharmacological assistance but, like Beth Harmon, the protagonist in The Queen’s Gambit, Zak Crawley is someone who lies in bed, stares at the ceiling and maps how he intends to construct a match-winning performance.
Crawley has been doing plenty of this since England landed in Hambantota on Sunday and went straight to their rooms to quarantine, not least with the series against Sri Lanka seeing him slated to open again. On Wednesday, however, he was among those who trotted out for their first net after clearing the latest Covid tests.
Only Moeen Ali, who tested positive for Covid-19 upon arrival and is undergoing 10 days of isolation in a separate wing of the Shangri-La hotel, and Chris Woakes, negative but forced to do seven himself as a close contact of Moeen, were missing from a session that saw the players work in small groups ahead of further tests on Thursday.
For Crawley, still just 22 and reporting no issues with the bubble lifestyle that has dominated his first 12 months in international cricket, excitement about this return to action was tempered by knowing that two mates are still stuck inside watching Netflix.
“They are doing well but I feel for them. It’s massively frustrating” said Crawley, after England trained in groups at Hambantota’s MRIC Stadium. “It’s one of those viruses where people like us, who are young and fit, don’t know we have it until we’re tested. Mo didn’t know until he was. I’m sure they’ll be good when they come out the other side.
“I was very excited to get out of England, come over here and play some cricket. We’re very lucky to be able to do that at this time, when other people can’t do a lot.
“It’s going to be a good challenge. Sri Lanka are very good in their home conditions and if we don’t play well they’ll be all over us. It’s something I’ve put a lot of thought into, so hopefully I’m mentally prepared.”
Asked to expand on this, Crawley revealed himself to be a batsman who puts plenty of stock in visualisation. “When you’re going to bed and before you shut your eyes you’re sitting there looking at the ceiling and thinking about how you want to play,” he said. “I do quite a lot of that. And when you’re just daydreaming you’re thinking about it.
“I find that if you think about it before you practise, it really helps. I’ve also done a fair bit of work in the bubble at Loughborough during the winter. I feel I’ve got a decent gameplan that I’m going to practise in the nets here and hopefully use in the games.”
There are good memories to call upon here too. As well as August’s maiden Test century – a remarkable 267 against Pakistan that announced his arrival on the world stage – a previous visit to Sri Lanka last March saw him chalk up a century in England’s second warm-up, only for the global shutdown to see the tour postponed mid-game and his innings lose its first-class status.
While his preferred spot remains No 3, paternity leave for Rory Burns during this tour means Crawley will rejoin Dom Sibley in facing the new ball. Along with last year’s 105 in Colombo, the right-hander will draw upon his experience from two trips to India with the Kent academy. In his mind, and perhaps understandably so for a player who is 6ft 5in, this is a case of tightening his defence for the immediate challenge of facing spin.
He said: “I’ve thought about that a lot. Because the ball doesn’t spin as much in England – and maybe spins differently – our defences aren’t quite as tight as they need to be naturally. That’s something we need to build that into our games. A strong defence gives you a chance to attack later down the line.”
Such a mature outlook is why so many believe Crawley to be the next big thing; in Sri Lanka, and the tour of India that follows, he appears well placed to demonstrate that last summer’s breakthrough showing in Southampton was merely an opening gambit.
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