Zak Crawley: How did he become England’s third-youngest double centurion?

Rob Key talks us through the development of Zak Crawley’s batting, from his time in the Kent academy to a stint in India learning how to play spin…

Crawley became the third-youngest man to hit a Test double century for England during day two of the third Test against Pakistan, achieving the feat at 22 years and 201 days of age – placing him behind only Len Hutton (22 years and 58 days) and David Gower (22 years and 102 days) in terms of age.

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Rob Key, who has been a mentor to Crawley since the 22-year-old was a teenager in the Kent academy, talked Nasser Hussain through Crawley’s development from a childhood spent in the nets with his parents to becoming a batsman for England.

Supportive, not pushy, parents

When Crawley was young, his parents were able to invest time in helping him to develop his batting and nurture an enjoyment of the game.

“You need your parents to just play with you as a kid, to take you down to the nets,” Key said. “It’s not about what the kids are sacrificing; they’re having fun. You have to sacrifice as a parent and Zak’s parents have done a hell of a lot of that.

“I can only really talk about what Zak’s dad is like and what his mum is like, and they’re not pushy parents. They just try and give him every opportunity they can.

“Wherever there was a game, they’d take him to it. If he ever wants to go hit some balls, they’d do that with him.

“I’ve played with loads of kids whose parents were very pushy. Sometimes it works, but you’ve just got to make sure – as they did – that the kid loves it. It’s not about you, the parent; it’s about the kid enjoying it.”

He learned balance at Kent academy

Crawley entered the Kent academy at the age of 13, where Key says finding the balance between hard work and enjoyment is important for a young cricketer to learn.


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“The counties have to get it right as well, and not just sell the dream too much; make it look like ‘you go from here and then you’re going to be a professional cricketer’,” he said.

“You want them to practice, you want them to enjoy it as much as possible because that’s why they’re doing it, but also keep their feet on the ground.

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“The coaches have to do that and the parents have to do that. Make sure that they work hard by practising as much as they can, but again, you’ve still got to enjoy it at that level.”

He backed himself to figure out his game

Key says it’s important for young players to listen to coaches but to also have the confidence to question when advice doesn’t work for them. He highlighted Crawley’s struggle with trigger movements as an example of that.

“This is an English obsession; trigger movements. The fact is that some players didn’t trigger at all,” Key said. “You have to work out what works for you. As a kid it’s so important – even if it’s a coach, even if it’s a county coach – whoever it might be, it doesn’t mean they’re right.

“Every coach has the best intention but it might not work. Zak did this for a couple of years and then – this is when I started to speak to him – I remember him ringing me and saying ‘I just feel like I can’t get a run’.

“He was playing club cricket as a 17 or 18-year-old. [He said]: ‘I’m really struggling, I don’t know when to trigger, I don’t if I’m moving too much or too little’.

“I said ‘You’ll know. Go into the nets and work without a trigger and you’ll work out what’s better for you’.

“That’s exactly what he did, he worked it out for himself. He tried triggering, he then tried not triggering, which is where he’s at now.

“It’s a simple game, cricket. If it feels horrendous, don’t do it, no matter who tells you!

“Every great young player, or good young player, no matter how old you are, you have to sift through what works for you. Work it out for yourself as well, because that teaches you great lessons for life later.”

A hunger to learn

Crawley was lucky enough to go to India to learn how to play spin – a trip he took with Key – showing an early desire to develop all aspects of his game.

“If you want to learn to play spin, where’s the best place to do it?” Key said.

“You’ve got to remember this is the winter time, and in the summer you’re playing cricket all the time. There’s a guy out in India that a lot of people know through County cricket, Sachin Bajaj, who runs these sessions.

“So you go out there, you go to Mumbai, you have loads and loads of net bowlers. We went out for a week. You want to practice spin – you do that in India. It’s the best place to do it.”

Working with Key, key?

While Crawley was receiving valuable coaching from the Kent staff, Key tried to teach him aspects of the game that would help him as a future international.

“This is where it’s a dilemma, because about this time now he’s getting into the Kent setup, the adult team, and he’s trying to work out the best way to go.

“In county cricket, do you prepare for the Darren Stevens, the medium pacers that are just wreaking havoc in there, but that’s not going to prepare you for international cricket.

“Matt Walker and Simon Willis, all the Kent coaches, would work day in and day out, but every now and again we’d see each other and I’d work on other stuff.

“I’m just trying to teach him the things that you don’t learn day in, day out when you’re working on your game.”

Still learning as an England cricketer

Key said it’s Crawley’s quick thinking that has allowed him to take everything he’s learned through the years and employ it in a split second at the crease.

“You’re trying to teach people all the mistakes that I’ve made where I wasn’t good enough throughout my career, you’re trying to teach them so they don’t make those mistakes so they don’t spend the whole 20 years of my career doing the same thing wrong. You’re trying to short cut the process,” Key said.

“You’re giving them options, you’re saying ‘you might want to play a slow medium pace bowler out of your ground. A left arm in-swing bowler, you might want to go onto leg stump’.

“That’s why he’s so impressive to me, because he’s a bright lad. He’s got all these options, but he’s the one who has to make a decision when to use it, when’s the right time.

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