DateLine: 13th February 2006
Along with Mark Ramprakash and Graeme Hick, you always knew that John Crawley would both depart and then return to the England Test team sooner rather than later in the 1990’s. With an education at Manchester Grammar School and Cambridge, and then with heavy run scoring for Lancashire, he couldn’t have chosen a more Athertonesque way to the top. A 286 for England A against Eastern Province just before Christmas in 1993 made him a near certainty for a Test call in the next English summer, although when this came, a strong South African attack successfully probed a weakness outside off-stump. If cricket was only played on the leg-side, Crawley would have been one of the world’s best batsmen. As it was, a disciplined bowling attack or captain who had researched him could stifle his scoring, although he could still deal with anything over-pitched on the off-stump effectively. His chubby cheeks ensured he fell foul of the never uncruel Aussie crowd in the 1994-5 Ashes series, which apparently led to him taking up smoking on his return to England to repress his appetite, although ironically he had more joy with the bat in this series than he had enjoyed against the South Africans. His real breakthrough came in 1996, when he made a maiden Test hundred against Pakistan. However, like Hick and Ramprakash, a good score was soon followed by a trough. An undefeated 156 against Sri Lanka at the end of 1998 booked his ticket to Australia, and proved his proficiency against extravagant spin. However, he again had off the field reasons to curse an Australian tour, as he was physically attacked by a drunk near the team hotel. His longest run out of the side came from the end of that tour to the 2002 English season.
After a winter of bitter negotiations, and after some months of growing political tensions at Old Trafford, Crawley had secured a departure from Manchester and joined Hampshire in time for the 2002 season. He responded to the change of air with a glut of runs, including 272 on debut. A Test recall seemed inevitable, and duly came. An undefeated century against India (after which he movingly paid tribute to his recently deceased mother) in an England win seemed to set the stage for a regular run in the team, and he made a third Ashes tour in 2002-3. This time there was less off the field drama, and he played in the amazing win at Sydney, although his three and a quarter hour 35* in the first innings did have a treacle wading feel to it. Many, including the man himself, were shocked when he was not included for the Tests against Zimbabwe at the start of the 2003 English season, although as he had been dropped so many times before it shouldn’t have been a big surprise. His replacement was Anthony McGrath, who was picked for the handy fourth seamer option he offered. At the age of 34, it is probable that Crawley won’t be seen in English colours again, although he remains a formidable opponent at county level, as a triple century in each of the last two English seasons testifies. He started his career as a usually smiling baby faced young man, although his rapid hair loss of recent years (combined with his well to do mannerisms) has given him a striking resemblance to Prince Edward. In the second Ashes Test of 1997 he temporarily kept wicket in the visitors first innings in the back spasmed absence of Alec Stewart, and he has donned the gloves on many emergency occasions over the years for Lancashire and Hampshire in both limited-overs and Championship matches. With a Test average of 34, he will not be remembered as an all-time great, although that figure puts him on a par with Mark Butcher and only just behind Nasser Hussain and Michael Atherton, and Crawley’s career was the most stop/start of all of them. He was somewhere between the effortless ability of Hick and Ramprakash and the intense willpower of Atherton and Hussain, although the Australians (against whom he scored five half-centuries) for one have always wondered why he did not play many more Test matches.
(Article: Copyright © 2006 Matthew Reed)