Zak Crawley sets the tone for England before Australia hit back in Ashes
Zak Crawley got England’s Ashes summer off to a vibrant start at Edgbaston, smashing the first ball of the series for four and posting a dashing half-century before falling to the final delivery of the opening morning.
The hosts won the toss and chose to bat, making good on their promises to play proactive cricket as they raced along to 124 for three at lunch in the first LV= Insurance Test.
Crawley, whose inconsistent form has drawn intense scrutiny over his place, repaid the selectors’ faith with an agenda-setting 61 of 73 balls, but when Scott Boland had him caught off the glove with the final act of the session it was a huge moment for the tourists.
Ben Duckett (12) and Ollie Pope (31) also fell, leaving Joe Root in charge of carrying the fight in the afternoon.
The first ball of the Ashes has acquired a mythology of its own over the years, with most of the memorable moments falling in Australia’s favour.
From Michael Slater slashing Phil DeFreitas for four in 1994, Steve Harmison serving up a massive wide in 2006 and Mitchell Starc smashing Rory Burns’ leg stump 18 months ago, they are etched into the story of the series.
But this time it was England who stamped their authority on proceedings from the off, Crawley crashing Australia captain Pat Cummins to the cover boundary in personification of England’s ‘Bazball’ philosophy.
A capacity crowd of 25,000 roared their approval and one of the most anticipated series in recent years was off and running in style.
Crawley welcomed Josh Hazlewood, recalled in place of Mitchell Starc, in similar fashion as he flicked four more through square-leg.
The jovial start was punctured in the fourth over when Duckett made an early exit, chopping Hazlewood past his own stumps then chasing the next delivery. Slanted away towards the cordon, it clipped the outside edge and settled in Alex Carey’s gloves.
To their credit, England refused to be rattled. Crawley and Pope ran eagerly, snapping up singles as Australia reverted quickly to defensive, deep fields.
Crawley was in his element, welcoming Nathan Lyon’s arrival after just 10 overs with a reverse sweep and a sweet drive down the ground.
When the metronomic Boland joined the attack there was more of the same, Crawley driving him on the up then cutting deftly behind square as the run-rate raced along.
Australia appeared to miss a trick when Crawley had 40, failing to appeal for an apparent caught behind that showed up on UltraEdge while going unnoticed on the field.
The second-wicket partnership eased to 70 as Australia remained oddly passive, but Lyon was on hand to make an important breakthrough.
Pope had breezed his way to 31 when he was hit in front of leg stump by a flatter delivery from the spinner, whose initial appeal was waved away then upheld by DRS.
Crawley’s 50 and the team hundred left England in a strong position as the interval loomed, only for Boland to muster some extra bounce and flick the batter’s glove in the closing over.