A five-match series in India presents England with "an amazing opportunity" to test themselves - and their swashbuckling approach with the bat - in different conditions, according to Zak Crawley
England have a six-month break until their next Test match, which starts in Hyderabad on January 25. They struggled badly against India's spinners on their most recent tour in early 2021, losing three consecutive Tests by heavy margins on turning pitches after winning the first game of the series.
Crawley, who played two Tests in the 2021 series and made 67 runs, said that the unexpected choice of venues for the tour meant England were journeying into the unknown - but said that they will be equipped for any challenge, whether the ball seams or spins.
"I don't really know much about their grounds," Crawley said, after England's win in the fifth Ashes Test. "Sometimes in India it seams and swings a bit - and they've got unbelievable seamers - so hopefully there are a couple of pitches there that are like that as well, that will suit us a bit more.
"But if it's spinning, I feel like we play spin really well as well. We'll just have to adapt, see what we get. But they are pretty unknown grounds - I don't know if they're going to be raggers like Ahmedabad and Chennai, where we were last time."
Ben Stokes laughed off a question about whether England's attacking style could work in India during his post-match press conference at The Oval, listing off all the previous occasions that his side had overcome doubts about their ability against other teams. "Who knows if we can do it against India?" he said, suppressing a laugh. "Only time will tell."
Brendon McCullum, England's Test coach, expects players and management to face "different challenges" over the next six months, with some involved in World Cup plans and others trying to keep themselves busy during a prolonged period of downtime. "Everyone will do it different," McCullum said.
"That's just the nature of having split formats, I guess. For us, what will be really important for the time India comes will be trying to dial back into what we've achieved in the last 14-15 months, and to try and make sure the team turns up with the same clarity of thought when we go about things."
Crawley himself hopes to play some white-ball cricket over the break. He is due to represent London Spirit at some stage of the Hundred over the next four weeks, and will come into contention for England's tour to the Caribbean in December.
"I can't remember having six months off [between Tests] before," he said. "I'll tick off a bit of T20 and hopefully a bit of white-ball stuff somewhere, but then [getting] back into it in India will be an amazing opportunity for our team to see how we go in those conditions."
He finished the Ashes as England's leading run-scorer, and his aggregate of 480 runs was the highest by an England opener in a home Ashes series since Mike Atherton in 1993, who played six Tests. "I'm pleased with that stat," Crawley said. "That's a good one."
He admitted that he would have considered it "quite unlikely" that he would have led England's run charts before the series. "I've always believed in myself, so I knew I had some good knocks in me - but I'd say it was unlikely."
Crawley's inclusion was scrutinised incessantly before the series. "I've never really paid much attention to that," he insisted. "All I care about is what the coach thinks… as long as he keeps backing me, then that's the only opinion I care about."
He made some minor adjustments through the summer - "I've narrowed my stance slightly, got my head slightly [further] forward" - but Crawley's main focus has been "looking to be positive - which is something I haven't quite done as well." He added: "I haven't quite committed to that in the past; I'm fully committed to that at the moment."
Perhaps the defining moment of Crawley's series was the first ball he faced, crashing Pat Cummins' opening delivery at Edgbaston through cover for four. He hit three boundaries off the first ball of an innings across the series. "A couple of them, I was trying to hit for four. I was trying to leave a statement," he said.
"The one second innings [at The Oval], for sure, wherever that was, I was going to try to hit that one. I just like to get off to a good start. Other times, I think it's not quite there and I'll get those singles which were on offer. I just want to get off to a good start and put them under pressure."
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98