After enduring his “worst ever summer”, England opener Zak Crawley hopes he has finally found the formula for success.
Crawley admits feeling pressure for his Test place after a series of low scores led to him playing within himself.
The Kent batter credits the support of captain Ben Stokes and coach Brendon McCullum for helping the penny to drop.
“It’s finally clicked,” said the 24-year-old. “I have to back myself. I decided towards the end of the summer I was not going to be tentative anymore.”
Crawley’s lightbulb moment appeared to come in the final Test at The Oval, where he made an eye-catching unbeaten 69 to steer England to a nine-wicket win, and series triumph, over South Africa.
Those runs were more than he had scored in his previous four innings of the series combined and he followed it up with an attractive 79 on Tuesday as Kent faced Somerset in their County Championship finale.
“To say it’s been an up and down year is generous – it’s been more just down,” Crawley told BBC Sport. “It’s been a tough year, probably the worst summer I’ve ever had, but I’m pleased with myself that I can bounce back.
“I always thought I would, but it just took longer than I thought. It’s nice to find some rhythm and take a bit of confidence into the winter.”
England are due to play a three Test series in Pakistan – their first in the country since 2005 – in December, before two Tests in New Zealand in February.
“Hopefully, all being well, I get picked in the squad, we’ll see what happens, but I have a lot better confidence going forward,” added Crawley.
“The new way I’ve been playing towards the end, being more positive, suits me more.”
Learning from mistakes
Crawley believes the summer of adversity, during which his average across his 28 Tests settled around 27, could prove to be the making of him.
“You learn way more from your failures than from your successes,” he said. “I have learned what not to do. There are plenty of things I have done this year that I am not going to do again.
“If you can learn from it and get better from it then it’s the best thing that’s happened to me.”
Both Stokes and McCullum have praised and put their faith in Crawley and he wishes he had bought into their positive ideas sooner.
“I’ve learned a lot from Brendan and Ben this year, about how they play the game, their positive mindset and backing yourself,” added Crawley
“They are the champions of that, aren’t they? It finally clicked towards the end of the summer, the messages they were trying to give.”
‘I’m not going to be tentative anymore’
The negativity clouding Crawley’s mind manifested itself physically while he was at the crease, he revealed.
“When I was out of nick I was putting restrictions on where I could score,” he explained.
“I was getting more and more negative and in my shell. It might not have come across like that with some of the shots I was playing, but I find, when I’m negative I don’t move my feet very well, don’t move my body, so it comes across like they’re loose shots. When I’m moving well, I’m getting in good positions and hitting those balls for four.
“It’s more of a mindset and a positivity thing, and some things to do with my practice that I got slightly wrong this year, I feel.
“It was more of a gradual over-time thing, I decided I have to back myself here. It’s a mental game and if you back yourself to score runs you’re going to score runs more often than not. I feel like I was just tentative this year and I decided towards the end I wasn’t going to be tentative anymore and I started playing better.”
Despite his name being commonly referenced on social media during England games in the past couple of summers, Crawley does not ever see the criticism.
He said: “I have never really liked social media. I got rid of it before my exams when I was 18 because I was on my phone too much. I have never really wanted it back.
“I like to stay in my own bubble and listen to the opinions of people who matter to me.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism