Zak Crawley impresses as England enjoy fruitful day

Zak Crawley continued his eye-catching form in Sri Lanka, posting England’s first century of the tour as they piled up 354 for three on day one of their Test warm-up against a President’s XI.

The 22-year-old opener kicked off the trip in confident fashion with scores of 43 and 91 against an SLC Board XI and stepped things up a notch with a composed innings of 105 at the P Sara Oval.

That was just the fourth first-class hundred of the Kent batsmen’s young career, but the rapid nature of his development over the winter suggests there could be plenty more to come in England whites.

At stumps Joe Root had 90 not out with Ollie Pope unbeaten on 84, working up an unbroken stand of 175, but the tourists will be wary about getting carried away.

The standard of opposition may be good for a practice outing – with eight full internationals among the home ranks – but a batsman-friendly track offering minimal turn is likely to be a red herring for what awaits in Galle next week.

As it stands Crawley’s first four Tests tell a modest statistical story – an average of 27.33 and a best of 66 – but the reviews are rolling in and they are glowing.

Batting coach Graham Thorpe said: “Every day he just goes out there and continues to impress.

“We heard good stuff about him. This is my first winter around him – obviously I’d watched him before – but I’ve just been really impressed. He’s got good character, he’s easy to talk to about the game and he wants to just keep progressing. He’s always willing to try things and that’s great in a young guy.

“The more he plays, the more he’s learning and the hungrier he’s getting. A willingness to learn quickly counts for a lot at this level. He’s nowhere near the finished article, he’s 22 years old, but we’re really excited about him as a player after the last three or four months around him.

“We hope his curve can continue to go up.”

Crawley, who raced to his half-century in just 47 balls, shared an opening stand of 103 with Dom Sibley but the latter was forced to work harder than his partner throughout. He fell just before lunch for 37, brilliantly caught at leg-slip.

Number three Joe Denly, preferred here to Keaton Jennings, made 26 but was hit on the helmet before scoring and offered a couple of half-chances early in his stay.

Shortly after he was caught behind Crawley was on his way, bowled by Mohamed Shiraz after two and a half hours. Root and Pope then set about dominating the remainder of the day’s play, the latter having come in ahead of Ben Stokes, working the softening ball into the gaps with ease and sharing 15 boundaries.

Centuries await both early on day two, unless the second new ball can find a way through.

Thorpe was pleased with the workout but acknowledged the lack of serious spin.

Graham Thorpe has been impressed by Zak Crawley
Graham Thorpe has been impressed by Zak Crawley

“I think we know what Galle and the ground in Colombo are like. We’ll be fully prepared for the pitches to turn,” he said.

“Whether it turns early in the Test match of halfway through we’ll be prepared for it.”

England offered no formal updates on their response to the growing threat from coronavirus, but are keeping a keen eye on developments locally and at home. Management on the ground are in contact with the British High Commission in Colombo and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and are awaiting further guidance.