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Eng vs Ire, 1st ODI – Zak Crawley wants England stand-ins to become the main team one day

Zak Crawley was “shocked” when Matthew Mott told him that he wanted him to captain England. His leadership experience at professional level amounts to two Championship games and two T20s for Kent, and he has only won three caps for England’s white-ball teams, all of them against Pakistan two years ago.

But this three-match ODI series against Ireland, which starts at Headingley on Wednesday, represents an opportunity for Crawley to lay down his captaincy credentials. “We see leadership potential in him,” Luke Wright, England’s national selector, said this week. “The way he handles himself around the group in Test cricket has been hugely impressive.”

There is no imminent prospect of either Ben Stokes or Jos Buttler stepping down from their respective roles as Test and white-ball captain, but there is no harm in having a succession plan in place. Ollie Pope, Crawley’s close friend, is Stokes’ official deputy at Test level, but Crawley may only be a couple of injuries away from leading England in India early next year.

“I captained a few age-group teams and my school team, growing up,” Crawley said. “I remember Shane Warne saying you should always think like a captain when you’re playing. I’ve done that since I was a kid – ‘what should we do now?’ – but I think everyone does that when you’re in the field, and maybe a bit bored.

“The good thing Baz [McCullum] has done – and Stokesy – is they’ve encouraged everyone to speak up. You feel very comfortable speaking up in the dressing-room. I certainly think that’s happened more in the last couple of years: more people have come out of the woodwork and led from the front. That’s most of the [Test] squad: there are leaders everywhere you look.”

Crawley’s captaincy debut will be about as low-key as international cricket gets: a midweek, end-of-season ODI against Ireland at a half-full Headingley, with attendances unlikely to be helped by the weather forecast. As if to underline it, Crawley’s family will not be there to watch him: “They say they get a better view at home, which I agree with.”

England have opted to rest their World Cup squad ahead of seven weeks in India, giving opportunities to a number of fringe players instead. With several first-choice players likely to play their final ODIs in India, these fixtures arguably mark the start of England’s planning for the 2025 Champions Trophy.

Crawley’s message to his side will be simple: “We’re trying to get this group to become the main team one day. We’re looking at the future and trying to emulate those guys above by doing the same things, playing the same positive way and trying to copy them as much as possible… We’ll try and keep it very similar and take the game on, like those guys have been doing for eight years now.”

Among “those guys” is Joe Root, who was added to the squad at his own request after a scratchy series against New Zealand. Root scored 6, 0, 4 and 29 in his four innings in that series and struggled to rediscover the tempo of 50-over cricket. Since the 2019 World Cup final, he has only batted 16 times in the format, scoring three half-centuries and no hundreds.

“If anyone has forgotten how good he is, that’s their fault,” Crawley said. “He’s just using it to find some rhythm; he’s a big rhythm player. I played under him for a long time, and stood next to him at slip when he was captain. It’s great to have him in the team and I’ll lean on him… hopefully he gets what he wants from it.”

Two weeks after the World Cup final, England are due to play three ODIs in the Caribbean and may well select another weakened squad to face West Indies. “I’d just be keen to go on that tour, to be honest,” Crawley said, asked if he thought he might continue as captain.

“If it works out that way that they want me to lead that, then we’ll cross that bridge when it comes. But I’d love to be on that tour as a player and we’ll see how it goes from there… I’ve got to concentrate on getting runs this week. If I don’t get any runs then that makes it hard to do that.

“I’ve tried my best to enjoy my cricket all summer, which is something I haven’t done so well in previous years when I probably put too much pressure on myself.”

Between finishing the Ashes as England’s leading scorer and captaining them for the first time, it has been a memorable summer for him.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98

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