Does Zak Crawley’s 189 matter?

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It was only one innings, but two Zak Crawleys batted at Old Trafford last week. The first was what we call in these parts “a jousey bastard” who cemented his reputation as the most gifted inside-edger in world cricket. The second was an almighty destroyer of worlds who flickered into existence and displaced the other guy completely from about 70 runs onwards, laying waste to the Australia “attack” in frighteningly untroubled fashion. That second chunk of innings was really quite something and it was followed by a similar assault from Jonny Bairstow – but given the match ended in a draw, do these innings actually matter?

Before we get to that, it’s worth pointing out that Australia didn’t retain the Ashes by being very much on the receiving end of a bruising, rain-affected draw. This was just the particular match when England ran out of time to catch up with them.

Because really both teams did a hell of a lot to mitigate the impact of bad weather in the fourth Test. England winkled Australia out for an underwhelming score in the first innings and then batted with almost unprecedented haste. Australia, however, were even further ahead, having very cannily won the first two Tests of the series. (Smart move, Australia.)

The 2-1 scoreline of course means that the Ashes are ‘retained’ even if the series can still be drawn. Given that England gave the Australia bowlers the kind of runaround they’ve rarely if ever had to endure before in this Test, all of that action begs a question: What’s important here? The Ashes, the scoreline or the memories?

The Ashes, the scoreline or the memories?

It’s the first one really, but the other elements do have the potential to massively enhance or massive diminish what winning (or retaining) the Ashes actually means.

In short, it’s not just about winning. It’s how you win and who you beat.

As just a quick example, compare and contrast the 2005 Ashes with the 2009 Ashes.

The former was a 2-1 England win over an incredible collection of all-time greats who’d contributed to Australia winning eight series in a row. The latter was a 2-1 England win in which Ben Hilfenhaus was the top wicket-taker.

That’s a little reductive because the 2009 series certainly had its moments (why not have a listen to the Ridiculous Ashes and revisit some of them). We do feel it reflects a fundamental truth though: Not all Ashes series are equal. Not all 2-1 victories are equal. The things that make them unequal are important too.

So while the 2023 Ashes are no longer up for grabs, we’d argue that the far more significant prize of ‘bragging rights’ remains unclaimed.

As such, Zak Crawley’s 189 off 182 balls and Jonny Bairstow’s 99 not out off 81 balls do matter because they are eminently bragworthy. We can’t remember Australia ever looking quite so fast-medium in the field as they did for much of this match.

2-1, 3-1 or 2-2?

But yeah, the Ashes cannot be won. That is kind of important. And England will feel frustrated as it has felt like Australia have been slowly cracking, only to hold out just long enough thanks to the British weather.

Whatever the eventual scoreline in this series, both teams have also been pitted against the schedule. Pat Cummins’ battery in particular looks like it’s being sustained by emergency five-minute charges during every break in play. This is hardly surprising. He’s just led his team through five Tests in six and a half weeks and bowled his oversized heart out in each and every one.

For their part, England knew none of their quick bowlers could make it through the whole series so they’ve chopped and changed and didn’t even get round to letting Mark Wood loose until they were already 2-0 down.

In short, the Test season has been condensed into one long, brutal, attritional ultramarathon. Some will gripe at The Hundred’s clear August window at this point, but this is basically the way they schedule Test series nowadays anyway.

It adds an interesting endurance dynamic to proceedings, but we do feel for the players shouldering the greatest physical and psychological burdens. The final Test starts on Thursday. Imagine the state of some of these guys if they hadn’t missed a day and a bit thanks to rain.


  1. It’s the first time in a long time, apart from perhaps trying to play Ashwin & Jadeja in India, that Australia have looked genuinely ragged and clueless.

  2. It will be very interesting to see how it goes at the Oval, although, if still ragged, the Aussies can always claim an element of “job done”. But I still think that a solid win from England will make the Aussie retention seem hollow, far more so than last time here, when 2-2 felt about right, but if anything flattering to England’s overall performance.

    Even more interesting will be the next Ashes series in Australia. I sense that England’s more attacking style should work well over there, as long as we have a bowling attack that can take 20 wickets in that environment. That means a balanced attack with raw pace and spin as well as high-grade fast-medium. As for the batting, yes, batsmen like Zak Crawley & Jonny Bairstow who are capable of match-winning innings really do matter. It cannot always be a Ben Stokes or a Beefy Botham “doing a Headingley”.

  3. In other news…

    …Warwickshire 60 all out against Middlesex on day one at Edgbaston.

    I mean, 60 all out. In first class cricket. At a test match ground in the Midlands.

    I’m scratching my head trying to recall if such a thing has ever happened before.

    Bert? Sam? Any thoughts?

    1. No thoughts. None. Not a single one.

      Most number of wickets to fall on day one of a first class game? Any advance on 22?

      1. I bet Joe Murrell went home and kicked the cat after that performance.

        I wonder if his nickname was Murrell-y?

      2. Sometimes think of adding a ‘like’ feature to the comments for situations like this where we have nothing to add but wish to display our appreciation for “Murrelly”.

      3. I don’t suppose “Old Jack” Hearne (not to be confused with “Young Jack” Hearne, who also played in that match) often went home having lost a first class match despite having taken eight wickets, all on the first day.

        Not least all of the pros (both sides) were probably bemoaning the loss of a couple of days of Lord’s grub.

      4. Neither do I suppose that Patsy Hendren and Plum Warner looked back on that 1913 match fondly. A very large contingent of past and future England players in that losing Middlesex side, in an era when, at least, they knew how to do decent nickname.

        Meanwhile, Kent smashed it that year, winning the county championship with that “below the radar” side.

  4. I was 16 and cricket mad at the time of the 2009 Ashes so this may be rose tinted specs, but I have very fond memories of the 2009 Ashes. Collingwood, Anderson and Monty barely holding on in Cardiff, Flintoff inspiring a historic win at Lord’s, Johnson blowing us away at Headingley and Broad proving our salvation in the final test with a signature spell are all solid standouts.

    1. Yeah, we’ve done it a bit of a disservice there. It was a hugely entertaining series for sure, but our point is that it’s not remembered in the same way as 2005 because it was played by two transitional sides.

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