Zak Crawley is a man with a plan as he sets out to grab Test spot

Zak Crawley is under no illusions about the task ahead if he is to secure himself a place in England’s Test side.

But for a man who is not yet 22, Kent opening batsman Crawley, who this week earned his first international call-up for the two-Test tour of New Zealand in November, is not short of a plan.

“I know how selection works, you’ve got to prove yourself,” Crawley told ESPNcricinfo. “And there’s some people who have had great years this year who I’m going up against, so I’m going to have to have good practice and try and impress them that way, because obviously there’s only one innings left before that tour.

“I’m not going in there assuming I’m not going to play or I’m going to play, I’m just going to try and put in the hard work and hopefully win them over like that.

Crawley will be vying with Dom Sibley and Ollie Pope for key batting positions at the top of England’s far-from-settled top-order.

Sibley, who also earned his first Test call-up for the New Zealand tour, is the leading scorer in county cricket and the only batsman in Division One to pass the 1,000-run mark with 1,324 runs at 69.68. He scored 215 not out and 109 in Warwickshire’s penultimate match of the season, an eight-wicket win over Nottinghamshire last week.

And Pope, who has played two Tests for England batting at No. 4 against India last year, is also enjoying a fruitful end to the 2019 Championship, having missed much of the season through injury. In only his fifth match of Surrey’s current campaign, his unbeaten 79 against Nottinghamshire gave him 533 runs at an average of 88.83 in eight innings.

“I’m not bothered where I bat, to be honest,” said Crawley. “Most likely it would be top of the order but if they said to me, ‘bat anywhere’, I’d bat anywhere, so I won’t pigeon hole myself to one spot just yet.”

With Kent’s final match of the season heavily interrupted by the weather, Crawley looks set to finish his campaign with 820 runs at 59.46, including two hundreds and five half-centuries. However, his past four innings have yielded scores of just 3, 4, 15 and 0, and so a phone call from England’s chief selector, Ed Smith, shortly after his duck against Hampshire at Canterbury brightened Crawley’s mood immeasurably. .

“It’s something I’ve been working for my whole life so hopefully now I can just seize the opportunity and go well, that’s the plan,” Crawley said. “There was an idea at the end of the tunnel where I wanted to be at, and England is definitely right up there. If and when I get the go, hopefully I can just put in a good performance and hopefully play for a long while.”

Crawley credits a stint with Sydney Cricket Club in the last NSW Premier Cricket season, particularly in the T20 arena, for his impressive development over the English summer. While at Sydney, he scored the fastest century in the competition, reaching an unbeaten 100 off just 42 balls.

“I had a good winter away last year,” Crawley said. “It seems to be a common theme when people have good winters, they come back and have good summers. I reckon that had probably the biggest influence on me.

“That was one of my goals in the winter, to do well in white-ball this year natually, and improve that game. This is a Test call-up so I’m more than happy with that but that was one of my main goals for the winter so that was very pleasing. I was just trying to know my game better and move forward, and I think I did that pretty well in the winter. I definitely came back to England with a clear picture of what I wanted to achieve and what I needed to do to do that.”

Kent captain Sam Billings, who earned a recall to England’s T20I squad for five matches in New Zealand in November, was hugely impressed with Crawley’s T20 progress, which included a top score of 89 off 55 balls against Essex last month, and tipped big things for the youngster across all formats.

“With my own call-up, I was actually happier with Zak getting called up,” Billings said. “His temperament is probably the most impressive thing with him, his work ethic as well. He will be a very successful cricketer around the world, not only in the four-day, five-day game but also in T20. How he just naturally picked up the game and he has all the skills to go with it, for me it’s great to see him kick on and get the recognition he deserves.”