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Zak Crawley: England opener faces big series against New Zealand, says Nasser Hussain

Zak Crawley faces a “big two or three games” as England opener, says Nasser Hussain, as the team face New Zealand in the first of three Test matches at Lord’s on Thursday.

England have won just one and lost 11 of their last 17 Tests, a run which led to the departures of managing director Ashley Giles and head coach Chris Silverwood following a 4-0 Ashes drubbing.

Rob Key has since been appointed as Giles’ successor, with Brendon McCullum chosen to lead the Test team alongside new captain Ben Stokes after Joe Root stepped down from the role in April.

Speaking on the Sky Cricket Podcast, former England captain Hussain said the first box that needs to be ticked by the new regime is fixing England’s top-order batting troubles.

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“You can’t keep being 50-5 or 20-2 and Joe Root keep walking to the middle,” Hussain said. “You’re not winning many Test matches from that position.

“It’s interesting to hear McCullum say he won’t be a technical coach, because I do think that’s an issue with some of that top order – Zak Crawley being a good example, a hugely talented young man but with a slight technical issue.

“It’s not easy, especially in England with the ball moving around, but that’s your job as an opening batter or in the top three, to go out there and see off the new ball.”

Former England cricketer Nasser Hussain says England need to get runs on the board early to win games and not just rely on individual brilliance from Ben Stokes and Joe Root.

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Former England cricketer Nasser Hussain says England need to get runs on the board early to win games and not just rely on individual brilliance from Ben Stokes and Joe Root.

Former England cricketer Nasser Hussain says England need to get runs on the board early to win games and not just rely on individual brilliance from Ben Stokes and Joe Root.

Crawley scored a superb 267 against Pakistan two years ago, while he displayed further evidence of his undoubted talent with a hundred in the first Test of the most-recent tour of the West Indies.

Despite those two knocks, Crawley averages just 28.60 in his 21 Tests and there is competition being provided by Kent’s Ben Compton, averaging over 100 this season as the leading run-scorer in the County Championship, among others.

Kent opener Ben Compton continued his fine start to the season as he hit a hundred against New Zealand in a County Select XI warm-up game

Kent opener Ben Compton continued his fine start to the season as he hit a hundred against New Zealand in a County Select XI warm-up game

“It’s a massive two games for Zak Crawley,” Hussain added. “Because I see Compton got another hundred against the touring side New Zealand – he’s getting runs for fun.

“Sam Robson [at Middlesex] has come back and done very well in the last couple of years, there’s also the lad Tom Haines down at Sussex [both averaging over 50 in 2022] – Rob Key has spoken about him – so there are two or three opening batters out there who are pushing for selection.

“It’s a big couple of games ahead for those two England openers.”

Ahead of England's first test match against New Zealand, we take a look back at Nasser Hussain's match-winning hundred in his final ever innings.

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Ahead of England’s first test match against New Zealand, we take a look back at Nasser Hussain’s match-winning hundred in his final ever innings.

Ahead of England’s first test match against New Zealand, we take a look back at Nasser Hussain’s match-winning hundred in his final ever innings.

‘Pope’s struggles in his own head’

Adding to the debate, former England batsman Mark Butcher believes Crawley would be better suited to batting at No 3, the position he played 45 of his 71 Tests.

Instead, Ollie Pope will bat at No 3 at Lord’s, having never previously done so for Surrey and despite his own battle for form at Test level after being left out of the side in the West Indies.

“I thought that if Crawley was going to play, number three is a better spot for him than opening – it’s just a feeling I have,” Butcher said.

Former England cricketer Mark Butcher says that there will be some nervous players against New Zealand playing for their spots in future test matches.

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Former England cricketer Mark Butcher says that there will be some nervous players against New Zealand playing for their spots in future test matches.

Former England cricketer Mark Butcher says that there will be some nervous players against New Zealand playing for their spots in future test matches.

“He is a bit on the precipice at the moment, because people are running out of patience – the failures have been coming thick and fast – and, yet, we can all see that if he cracks it, you have a guy that has an enormous amount of talent and an enormous amount to offer.

“That is something that McCullum will pit his wits against, that will be where he adds an enormous amount of value to this England team. Make the guys believe in themselves and play to the best of their ability.”

Ahead of England's first Test against New Zealand, Former England cricketer Mark Butcher says Ollie Pope's biggest challenge is his own head.

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Ahead of England’s first Test against New Zealand, Former England cricketer Mark Butcher says Ollie Pope’s biggest challenge is his own head.

Ahead of England’s first Test against New Zealand, Former England cricketer Mark Butcher says Ollie Pope’s biggest challenge is his own head.

Butcher added on Pope: “Going back to the South Africa tour [in 2019/20] – just prior to Covid – where England won 3-1, he made a hundred in that series and looked every inch the Test-match player. For some reason, things have gone downhill since then.

“Basically, the challenge of batting at number three is you’re an opener in many respects. You can be, through no fault of the two guys ahead of you, in very early and so you’ve got to have two games; you’ve got to be able to play for your off stump, line it up well and you’re also required sometimes to go in there and take the game on a little bit, throw a counter punch.

Ahead of the first test between England and New Zealand at Lord's, we take a closer look back at the two-Test series in 2021.

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Ahead of the first test between England and New Zealand at Lord’s, we take a closer look back at the two-Test series in 2021.

Ahead of the first test between England and New Zealand at Lord’s, we take a closer look back at the two-Test series in 2021.

“Ollie’s biggest thing really is in his own head. He has had massive technical issues. But, by all accounts, he is playing really well, scoring lots of runs in county cricket.

“Can he now transfer that undoubted talent into a calm enough mind to go out there and take on the very stiff challenge of taking on the New Zealand bowling attack and of batting at number three? It’s not easy.”

Doull: Good opportunity for England

Back in the England squad, and expected to be named in the starting XI for Lord’s, are James Anderson and Stuart Broad after the pair were axed from the touring squad of the West Indies.

Watch Stuart Broad take seven wickets in 11 overs to inspire England to an incredible 170-run win against New Zealand at Lord's in 2013.

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Watch Stuart Broad take seven wickets in 11 overs to inspire England to an incredible 170-run win against New Zealand at Lord’s in 2013.

Watch Stuart Broad take seven wickets in 11 overs to inspire England to an incredible 170-run win against New Zealand at Lord’s in 2013.

They have taken a combined 1,177 wickets at Test level, and despite their advancing years – Anderson 39 and Broad 35 – former New Zealand fast bowler Simon Doull said it was no shock to see them back, though he does wonder how much longer Anderson can continue for at the highest level as he gets set to turn 40 this summer.

“I am not surprised they’re back at all under Stokes and McCullum,” Doull told the podcast.

“I think Broad has got more than this summer in him. Has Anderson, at his age, got the miles in his legs to go again after this home season? I don’t know. But I think Broad has. And I think England need someone like him to lead that bowling attack for another 18 months.

We take a look back at some of the most memorable moments over the years between England and New Zealand.

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We take a look back at some of the most memorable moments over the years between England and New Zealand.

We take a look back at some of the most memorable moments over the years between England and New Zealand.

“He is a terrific competitor, they both are, but if I’m looking slightly longer term than the three Tests against New Zealand, they need someone like him [Broad] to bowl the tough overs. You want a bloke you can throw the ball to who you know is going to run in and give you everything he’s got.

“I was really surprised [they were left out in the West Indies], and I’m pleased for them that they’re back. I know they’ll be working their backsides off to make sure they’re 100 per cent ready to go.”

As for New Zealand, Doull thinks it’s a good time for England to be facing them as the new McCullum/Stokes era looks to get off to a winning start, pointing to the recent struggles of their skipper Kane Williamson.

New Zealand captain Kane Williamson arrived in England in the midst of a dreadful run of form

New Zealand captain Kane Williamson arrived in England in the midst of a dreadful run of form

Williamson averages over 50 in Test cricket, though that drops to below 30 for his five Tests against England in this country. The Black Caps captain also comes into this series following a wretched run of form in the IPL where he averaged 19.63 in his 13 games.

“I’ve never seen him in such poor form, struggling so much,” Doull said. “He has had a horrendous time of it in the IPL, with a strike-rate of well under 100, opening the batting, you cannot be doing that.

“I also saw he got nicked off for 0 in the latest tour match. He is just going through a terrible time of it.”

Doull added: “I think it’s a good opportunity for England to start really well under this new regime.”

Watch England take on New Zealand in the first Test, from Lord’s, live on Sky Sports Cricket and Sky Sports Main Event from 10am on Thursday.



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