Is Zak Crawley a good Test opener?

How England ended up with a bazball opener that probably wouldn't work for another team.

Is Zak Crawley a good Test opener is a question that has haunted me for a very long time. Traditionally he is not good. He's not even close to being good.

Of everyone with more than 2000 runs in the top six in Test cricket. He is very much down the end you do not want to be at. And for many people, this would be case closed. I understand that entirely.

This is only the fourth Test in 38 he has more than 100 runs in the match.

He just doesn't score a lot of runs. That doesn't mean he does nothing right. He's not here by accident.

While it is hard to overlook that his father tried to build him as a Test cricketer from a young age with his wealth. Flying him around the world, ensuring he was meeting significant cricket people. That story is well known.

But there are cricket reasons that he ascended as well. England saw a young batter who could disrupt bowlers off a length because of his game and height. It makes a lot of sense. Except on a length Crawley has largely been horrible.

And most players struggle more with length, so it's such a good place to bowl. But Crawley was supposed to dominate it, and he's been by far his worst against it. Scoring slow and getting dismissed. And you can see that against every other length he is so much better. So even the one thing he was supposed to conquer he has not.

So he doesn't make many runs and he doesn't really alter the length of bowlers like he should do.

Is he a fast scorer, because that is the idea, right? He gets on that front leg and punishes bowlers by driving on the up. Since the start of his career, he's undoubtedly one of the faster scorers.

But a 63 strike rate doesn't really move the needle that much.

But since Bazball he has gone up to 78, and that does actually make a bigger difference.

So that part has worked a lot better.

England would say that Crawley is worth the low average for when he comes off. And they are at least partly basing this on the fact that they couldn't find an opener before or during his run in the team.

If you get someone who will average around 30, they might as well have a strike rate that occasionally stirs things up. And if that fails, apparently, you just get him drunk and give him a cigar and it's all good.

It doesn't make sense. But remember England is not a fully-fledged team. McCullum tried to assemble a side that would win more than lose by playing to their strengths. And Crawley's strength is the 40 from 50 balls that change the plans of the bowlers and gives England's stronger middle order a fast start to continue.

If on occasion he does more than that, it's just a bonus.

And there are no stats that suggest he does more than that often.

The openers at the other end, when Crawley has been batting, have averaged 35, and the non-England openers in his matches have averaged 33.39. Even those matches played in England - where it is one of the hardest places to handle the new ball - are averring 33. Crawley is under par against every single metric. Except strike rate.

If you compare him to all openers in the world during his career his record suggests he is below average.

And not a little bit, either. This is a low mark, and no one would argue that.

There is no creative accounting way to see what he has done more positively. These are the England openers who have shared bowlers and pitch conditions in his matches.

Zak Crawley makes fewer runs than normal on every metric you can than everyone except for Alex Lees.

And yet, he has been good this series. Not even including today, he had an impact before this innings. Doing pretty much precisely what England was hoping for. Hitting a boundary first ball, bazballing from the front and getting enough pesky starts to annoy the Australians.

Coming into today Crawley had the third-worst control percentage of any batter.

It should be noted that the guys near him are the most attacking players, so they will be looser than Usman Khawaja, who barely plays a shot.

But here is the most fun thing: Zak Crawley was in less control today than in the rest of the Ashes.

If you watched the innings I think that made sense. Yes, this was when Crawley went large, but it was also when he had the most luck.

Crawley looked like he was on a mission to drag the ball back to his own stumps. He hit the ball in the air several times in places that could have ended up anywhere. He played and missed as well. His hundred was from a mistimed slap into a gap over cover's head.

When he played a perfect shot, it was as exquisite as can be, but it might have been followed with a shot that made it look like he hated cricket.

The best-attacking batters can be like this. Their main skill is being a goldfish. That allows them to play a cross-batted heave and miss the ball, only to follow up with a drive on the up through the covers that should be painted. Crawley has obvious weaknesses. His two main issues, driving at balls that are too short outside his eyeline and his inability to make consistent scores at any level of his game are so blatant they almost punch you in the eye.

But he also has that mix of short memory and confidence that helps when being an attacking batter.

And if he didn't, today simply would not happen. If he really looked at his career so far, it would be hard to take any confidence at all. He would be almost too nervous to go out and bat at all. It is remarkable that at the age of 25 he will play 40 Tests. But England will say that days like today are why. For the rest of us, we are stuck with the question of whether he is any better simply because today he wasn't dismissed from many chances. While also having to admit that he changed the direction of this Test, and maybe the Ashes themselves.

But even if you say he did that, is he a better player than before? Even after playing for England he has not gone back to Kent and been any better.

Despite today, his average as an opener is still under 30, though his overall mark has safely cleared it. And if you look at him compared to all the openers with 1500 runs, he's one of the worst ever.

But this is the bit that haunts me. England are changing what the perceptions are. They are saying that intent is more important than average. You watch today and it's a streaky mess of an innings that may be the best bad knock ever, or the worst good one, and you cannot help but wonder if Zak Crawley is actually made for this job.

So what if Zak Crawley is simply an opener who at the very top of his range is an average of 35? But a strike rate of 80 or 85.

Is that a good opener? Is it better when paired with an English middle order that is their strength? Does it matter what his overall average is, if he can play an innings that upsets the opposition this much every ten knocks?

The truth is Zak Crawley is not a good opener in most teams. You just cannot make that argument, even in the slipstream of this innings. But he is an ideal bazball opener. And like most things in England, it wouldn't make sense for anyone else. But in the bazballverse, Crawley works.