England Test coach Brendon McCullum’s backing of the underperforming Zak Crawley has been criticised by Mark Butcher.

McCullum said the opener’s skill-set is “not be a consistent performer” after his latest dual failure, in the first Test against South Africa.

Crawley averages 26 after 26 Test matches, scoring two hundreds and five fifties. The number drops significantly since the start of 2021, with the opener maintaining an average of 18.61 in 18 games in that time. He is without a half-century in his last 14 innings, a stretch of form which has further intensified the scrutiny on the youngster.

McCullum, however, came out in support of Crawley following the innings defeat at Lord’s. “You have to think about the overall package,” the former New Zealand wicketkeeper said. “We have some players that have been put in those positions because they have certain skill-sets. I look at a guy like Zak and his skill-set is not to be a consistent cricketer. He’s not that type of player. He’s put in that situation because he has a game which, when he gets going, he can win matches for England.”

Speaking on the Wisden Cricket Weekly podcast, Butcher described McCullum’s comments as “a bit of silliness”. “I don’t know,” he said. “My deciphering of the support then was that you’re trying your very best to give the guy as much confidence, as much backing, as you possibly can so that he can fulfil the potential that undoubtedly he has. This is slightly different.

“This is saying, ‘We’re expecting you to fail a lot’. I’m not entirely sure that that’s a great way to go about picking your top order. It sounds ridiculous and as much as I enjoy Brendon and Ben’s positivity, that’s just a bit of silliness.”

Butcher added that instead of persisting with Crawley, the team management should consider giving him a break so he can play county cricket and bring more consistency to his game. The 24-year-old has played 84 first-class games so far in his career and averages 29.36.

“You know, there is a huge promise, huge potential. Okay, brilliant. Go away, sort it out, and work out how to score runs on a regular basis because let’s face it, he hasn’t even done that in county cricket, let alone international level,” he said. “And when the time is right, you will come again and you’re coming in as a much, much better player. And you might add that holy grail of consistency to the undoubted skill that you have as a ball striker.

“I don’t understand what’s wrong with that. That’s not conceding or admitting defeat or saying that your philosophy and the way to play are wrong. That’s just going: this guy needs something that he is unable to get in the spotlight of Test match cricket right now, and we will allow him to go and find it and then we will bring him back. If you believe in him as much as you do then there is no problem whatsoever giving him that break.”

The commentator also pointed out that selecting players who fail more than they succeed will send the wrong message to the other batters in county cricket.

“What does it say to all the lads out there in county cricket trying to churn out runs trying to try to play aggressively and managing to get their averages up around 40? All these top-order players are working unbelievably hard. It basically says to them that it doesn’t actually matter what you do because failure is now built in, long-term failure, extended failure is now built into the way that we select a side and that can’t be right.”