England batsman Zak Crawley has backed “big leader” Ben Stokes to be a successful captain in their Test match against the West Indies.
Cricket will return for the first time since lockdown began in the UK, when England take on West Indies this week. Crawley is one of 13 players included in the England squad for the first Test, and is eager to get back at the crease.
The circumstances of the Test will be much different from the norm. The England squad have been living in a biosecure bubble to avoid any risk of their Test series being disrupted by coronavirus.
But Crawley believes the change from the normal approach has not been too noticeable.
“It’s not too different from staying in any hotel, really, apart from the fact that everyone’s wearing masks,” he told Sky Sports.
“We’re all in our rooms together and we’ve all tested negative. But we’ve got to make sure when we’re down that we’re respecting the people working in the hotel, so we keep our distance from them.
“And obviously there’s hand-sanitizer everywhere, but other than that, it’s been pretty normal for me, actually.”
Crawley also revealed how much time England have been able to spend training while staying on-site at a hotel connected to the Ageas Bowl cricket ground.
“Well, it’s a bit difficult now, because first of all we had a very large squad, so we’ve had to mix up the players.
“We’ve had half the team training in the morning, half the team training in the afternoon. So it’s been pretty boring on that half when you’re not training!
“But now the West Indies are here as well, so we’re going to have to split up days again, so we don’t go near them.
“So I’d have liked it to have been training 24/7, but that’s part and parcel of what we’re in.”
In preparation for the Test series, England took part in an intra-squad friendly between teams captained by Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler.
Crawley claimed the warm-up game was “competitive” and gave England’s bowling attack in particular a good chance to find their rhythm.
“Yeah, it was really good, actually. It didn’t feel as strange as I thought it was going to be, actually, so that was good,” he said.
“Ben said at the start of the game that he wanted the game to be really competitive and I think it was.
“All the bowlers got a good run out and I think it was very good – as good as you’re going to get in terms of a warm-up game in preparation for the Test matches.”
Stokes will captain England for the first time in the first Test, given that regular captain Joe Root is absent for the birth of his second child.
The all-rounder has already received a huge show of support from several high-profile figures in the game – including Phil Tufnell in an exclusive interview with Cricket365, as well as former England captain Sir Andrew Strauss.
And Crawley has also backed Stokes to be a success in the role after being on his team in the warm-up game.
“He was very good. He’s already a big leader in the team, so he’s not going to have any problems leading the team in that first Test match.
“He’s played a lot of cricket and he’s a very experienced player, so he’s going to be ready to captain I think.”
The warm-up game also gave Crawley first-hand experience of how England’s pace bowlers are shaping up – as he was on the opposite team to Jofra Archer and Mark Wood.
And the 22-year-old believes both players have put themselves firmly in contention for the first Test.
“They’re bowling at good pace,” Crawley revealed. “They’re bowling at good pace in the nets and they both look pretty fresh and it’s good that Jofra’s elbow’s recovered now.
“So he’s back fully fit and they’re both pushing for a place in that Test team, which is great.”
With the series set to take place behind closed doors, starting with the first Test in Southampton, Crawley added that he will not notice a difference during the game – but will before and after.
“I think it’ll be strange in the warm-up maybe and after the game,” he said. “You’re used to that big build up and all the big nerves, there’s all the people there.
“But once the first ball’s bowled, I think it’s going to be back to normal. You’re concentrating so much on what you’re trying to do in the games that the crowd doesn’t really come into it.
“So I think it’s going to be fine as soon as that first ball’s bowled.”
In the four Test matches Crawley has appeared in so far, he has featured at various spots in the batting order.
When asked his preferred role, the Kent man insisted he is happy to play anywhere, but admitted he has had most success as an opener recently.
“It’s a difficult question. I’ve batted anywhere in my whole life, so I don’t have a preferred spot.
“I suppose I’ve been opening in the last couple of years, so that’s where I’ve had my most success in the last couple of years. But maybe if I’d have batted three, I’d have got a lot of success there as well, so we’ll have to wait and see.”
Wherever he plays in the order, Crawley is going above and beyond in his preparation. He admits he rarely watches footage of opponents, but will break that tradition to get ready to face the West Indies bowlers.
“They’ve got a very good bowling attack. I’ve obviously seen quite a few of them on TV and watched them from time to time, and played against a couple of them when Kent went to tour Antigua. So I know their bowling attack a little bit.
“I’ll definitely be looking at some footage to pick up a couple of tips here and there, but in general I’m not a big one for watching too much footage.
“But I’ll definitely be having a look, just to make sure I know everything about them.”
Overall, Crawley is just relishing the opportunity to be able to play in another Test.
When asked if he is looking forward to getting back in action, he said: “I definitely am, yeah, for sure.
“Any chance to play a Test match [is a] great opportunity, so I’m very much looking forward to it.”
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