It was heralded in a slightly subdued, Covid-inspired way, with fist bumps rather than handshakes from Pakistan’s players and applause coming solely from the England balcony. But that should take nothing away from a truly great performance from Zak Crawley.
Back in normal times a full Saturday house at the Ageas Bowl would have risen as one and roared their approval of a 22-year-old who had ticked off a dizzying number of landmarks on his way to turning his maiden Test century into a monumental 267.
But Crawley was clearly content to walk off in an under-stated way knowing he had announced himself on the world stage by playing the innings of a lifetime in just his eighth Test to ensure England will win their first series against Pakistan in 10 years.
Zak Crawley produced a career-changing display of 267 as England piled on the runs
Crawley was eventually stumped down the leg-side as he charged part-timer Asad Shafiq
No praise can be too high for Crawley. No fault can be found with the way he played here as he initially moved carefully towards his double century, spending 41 balls on his overnight 171, before accelerating classily and effortlessly through the gears.
By the time it was over in low-key fashion, Crawley being stumped down the leg-side off the occasional off-spin of Asad Shafiq, he had played every shot in the book and stood comparison with the very best in the way he executed them. It was simply world-class.
So effortlessly fluent was Crawley that he totally overshadowed his partner and one of the most dynamic batsmen in the game in Jos Buttler in a record-breaking stand of 359 for the fifth wicket that conclusively ended any hopes Pakistan had of sharing this series.
If anything Buttler became a little bogged down after surviving being given out caught behind on 99 on review, failing to hit a boundary between lunch and tea and then lobbing a gentle return catch off the equally filthy spin of Fawad Alam after reaching 152.
No matter. Buttler had more than done his job and, following his role in the miracle of Manchester that won England the first Test, had ended any doubts about his future in Test cricket, as a batsman at least. Another piece of the England Test jig-saw is in place.
But not as securely as that of Crawley who, lest we forget, was left out for two Tests earlier this summer when Ben Stokes was unable to bowl. Indeed, it is fair to assume Crawley would not be playing here now had Stokes not been forced to fly to New Zealand to be with his sick father.
His innings was still good enough to become the 10th highest score by any Englishman in Tests
England will not leave him out again in a hurry. Not after he became their third young batsman this year to reach his maiden Test hundred, following Dom Sibley and Ollie Pope in making an indelible mark on this improving side.
Only Crawley usurped the other two by becoming the third youngest Englishman to make a double hundred, just behind two great names in Len Hutton and David Gower. And reaching the highest maiden Test century by an England player since Tip Foster’s 287.
It was chanceless, too. There was a top edged pull on 83 on Friday that landed safely and then a drive through the slips to reach the magic 200. But that was as close as Pakistan got to ending Crawley’s fun until Mohammad Rizwan whipped off the bails.
And what fun he had. There was a casual lofted drive for six over extra cover off Yasir Shah. Then a smile and a smattering of applause from his team-mates after he reached 222 and went past the highest score of his mentor and fellow man of Kent in Rob Key.
His partnership with centurion Jos Buttler was the sixth-highest in England’s Test history
Perhaps the best shot of the lot came when Crawley moved over to the off-side, came down the pitch and flicked Mohammad Abbas dismissively for four to reach 250 in a manner that was totally out of the Kevin Pietersen playbook.
Only his failure to go on to 300 and possibly challenge Graham Gooch’s 333, made against India 30 years ago, was anything like a disappointment for Crawley as he reached the 10th highest score in Test history by an Englishman. And all with only three previous first-class hundreds and a previous average of 30 under his belt. Truly remarkable.
It will be interesting to see what England do with their line-up when Stokes returns.
The most logical move would be to slip him back at six, move Buttler to seven and leave out a bowler but Crawley could yet end up returning to opener at the expense of Rory Burns or Sibley in Sri Lanka and India, if those tours go ahead, this winter.
When Joe Root finally called it a day with England on 583 for eight, Chris Woakes contributing a quick 40 to their highest score in four years, the only question was whether England would be able to bowl Pakistan out twice to end this unique Test season with a flourish and a 2-0 series victory.
Buttler brought up his ton in 189 balls during a frustrating second session in Southampton
They really should, possibly as soon as Sunday, because Pakistan, after two months in the bio-secure bubble, look a beaten side now as they demonstrated by losing three wickets in the hour left them on day two of the final Test in making 24 runs.
And, who else, but Jimmy Anderson should take all three of them, moving on to 596 Test wickets by having Shan Masood lbw, dismissing him for the eighth time in Test cricket, and then seeing Abid Ali well caught low in the slips by Sibley.
Then, right at the close, Anderson got rid of the danger man in Babar Azam. There was even time for a quick burst of the extreme pace, as yet with no rewards, that England have demanded from Jofra Archer in this Test.
It really would bring a hugely satisfying end to this most difficult of Test summers if Anderson could follow Crawley’s achievement by becoming here the first fast bowler in Test history to reach the magical figure of 600. There are few who would bet against him doing it now in a winning cause for England.
Play was first delayed and then interrupted by rain showers at the Ageas Bowl on day two