Cricket: Character test for unlucky Crawley

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IT IS impossible not to feel extremely sorry for John Crawley. He found himself playing his first Test match against much the strongest opposition England have faced this summer - and he was selected after he had lost his prime early-season form.

The South African seam attack is at least as threatening as the West Indian quartet of fast bowlers, and a great deal less friendly than New Zealand's Chris Pringle, Dion Nash - although the latter came on enormously in England - and Michael Owens.

If Crawley had been given his first chance against New Zealand he would by now have settled those early nerves. As it is, he was out in both innings pushing from the crease at excellent balls which moved away from him, and on both occasions his bat was a long way from his body.

He will now go on to Headingley for the second Test in an understandably agitated state of mind. Two more failures there - and it is never going to be easy against Donald, De Villiers and company - and the selectors could then decide to look elsewhere for The Oval and for Australia next winter.

This would be a mistake, for Crawley is the most talented of the young batsmen in the country, and needs to be guaranteed a good run in the side. The sort of run in fact that Graeme Hick has been given.

It has for some strange reason become a habit for England's selectors to ignore an obvious Test candidate until the form which has made him one has deserted him. That is what happened last year to Mark Lathwell of Somerset. The longer a player is spoken about as a certain Test cricketer before he is selected, the more the pressure builds up on him.

One wonders too, if the selectors ever considered the advantage of giving him an easier start to his Test career by picking him against the less threatening New Zealand attack. Of course, this is an option which is not always available, but by ignoring it now, the selectors have made life harder for Crawley. By all accounts he has an excellent temperament and is unlikely to let this poor start worry him too much. The problem is made no easier though, by the fact that Mike Atherton, who knows him as well as anyone, wants to bat him in the all-important position of No 3. It is all going to be quite a test of character for Crawley.