Man in the Middle: Coping with the pressure burden: John Crawley

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ALTHOUGH he is 21 and fresh from university, John Crawley has experienced enough of the ups and occasional downs of first-class cricket to have a level-headed approach to his profession. The head stayed level, as befits a class batsman, even when an informal straw poll in this paper linked his name with that of his Lancashire colleague Mike Atherton as a future England captain. 'He is the one that comes to mind if you are looking to the future,' Nigel Briers, the Leicestershire captain, said. Intolerable pressure on a youngster, surely?

'No, it's an honour to be considered by people like that as a possibility,' Crawley said. 'But anything can happen. If you're a professional cricketer you set your sights on playing for your country, and to be captain would be the biggest honour of all. The pressure builds up, anyway, when you have a bad run with the bat, because you might begin to think you're not doing your job properly. But to know you've been noticed is a boost, not a problem.'

As the captain of Cambridge University, plunged straight back into the county circuit, Crawley is better placed than any to notice that extra step a cricketer must take to play at the top level.

'People try to do down university cricket, but the counties do send full sides to play against us. There might be people playing for their place, or trying to get back after injury, so they're keen. But Cambridge is a very slow pitch, hard to score on. Yes, county cricket is more competitive. You are striving for points, for win bonuses. The ball bangs on to the bat that much harder than at Fenner's. But, to be honest, there's less pressure on me because the team I am playing with is that much better. There's less individual responsibility.'

Certainly, Crawley took a lot of the work towards a reasonable Cambridge University season on to his own shoulders, notably a magnificent career-best 187 not out against Sussex at Hove. 'Lovely batting wicket,' Crawley recalled. 'I was lucky to be dropped in the eighties, but after that I just kept building. My ambition is still to get a 200, because I had to declare myself out]'

(Photograph omitted)