Top grounding Down Under has Zak looking up

SYDNEY Cricket Club’s alumni is an impressive one.

Global stage: Zak Crawley

But, by the time he has called time on his career, it’s likely that Zak Crawley’s name will feature near the top of a list that already includes Michael Slater, Mike Gatting and Graham Thorpe.

Crawley’s performances against Pakistan – in particular his epic innings of 267 in the third and final Test of a rain-ravaged series – have suddenly thrust the Kent man onto the global stage.

And his mastery of Pakistan’s bowling attack at the Ageas Bowl suggests he’ll remain there for some time to come – much to the delight of Michael Haire, the Sydney coach who picked him up from the airport and then saw Crawley’s game take flight Down Under back in 2018/19.

“A very, very impressive young man,” he tells The Cricket Paper. “And someone whose smile never left his face.”

The Crawley grin was very much in evidence for England in the four Tests he played this summer, and it’s little wonder given his run-scoring feats.

The 22-year-old will look back on an extraordinary few months of cricket, his one regret doubtless being that no supporters were allowed to enter the ground to see him become the third youngest double centurion in English Test history.

That doesn’t mean he was short of people willing him on, though.

“We were all following that innings,” says Haire. “He had a few scrapes early on but once he was in, that was it. He always looked as though he was going to cash in, which is the sign of a really good player and what separates those players from the rest.”

It’s not the first time that he has seen Crawley tear an attack apart. Shortly before Christmas in 2018, Haire watched on as the Kent star registered the fastest century in New South Wales’ premier T20 competition.

Playing for the Tigers against Steve Smith’s Sutherland, the then 20-year-old thwacked a century off just 42 balls, beating the previous recordby three balls.

By anyone’s standards it was an astonishing innings and, watching on from the outfield, the former Australian captain wasted little time in seeking Crawley out after the game.

“Steve Smith came into our sheds afterwards and he wanted to meet him,” says Haire. “He just said ‘this guy has got something about him’.”

It’s likely that Smith will get to have a closer look at Crawley when England travel Down Under in an attempt to win back the Ashes next winter.

By which time England and Crawley himself, will hope that his Test stats are bolstered by a few more three-figure efforts, something that Smith has managed routinely for Australia in recent years.

Haire has little doubt that Crawley can handle anything that the Aussies players, crowds and pundits hurl at him.

“Most clubs here have an overseas player for the Grade competition and typically it’s an English player,” he says. “The pro is always targeted – just as an Aussie would be if he came to England.

Zac was attacked with the short ball and he played it very, very well. He also did well for the England Lions out here last year too.

“I think he’ll go very well in Australian conditions. Maybe it took him a little while to get used to our sense of humour but nothing unsettles him. He always has a smile on his face.”

Roll of honour: Michael Slater

That Crawley was in Sydney at all, was down to his Kent team-mate, Joe Denly, who had spent three seasons at the club as well as playing for the Sydney Sixers in Australia’s Big Bash.

Denly had reached out to Haire and recommended Crawley as the kind of player who would thrive for the Drummoyne-based side. Turns out he was dead right. And the path taken by England’s new star is also likely to be followed by fellow Kent starlet Jordan Cox if Covid-19 allows this winter.

“Joe knows what we’re looking for in players. I’ve always worked under the premise that good people make good Tigers,” says Haire. “We just want people that are going to come out, train hard, play hard, and be good people around our group.

“I picked Zak up from the airport when he arrived and I told him I wanted him to show our fellas what a professional cricketer needs to do to be able to play cricket.

“Zac would be the first one at training – we would start at 4.30 and he would always be there at 4’o’clock. Then he would be the last to leave as well. He’d go through his batting drills and if he wasn’t batting in the nets then he would be fielding. He was an all-round nice guy and an outstanding player too.”

A tiger who has truly earned his stripes.

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