SYDNEY (Reuters) - Mason Crane’s introduction to test cricket for the fifth and final Ashes clash with Australia is perhaps a sign that England are finally prepared to invest the time it takes to develop a decent leg-spinner, whatever the short-term cost.
At 20, Crane will be the youngest England spinner for 90 years to make a test debut when he wins his first cap at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Thursday in a series that England trail by an irretrievable 3-0.
In the corresponding fixture on the 2013-14 Ashes series, when England were 4-0 down, Scott Borthwick, Boyd Rankin and Gary Ballance were all handed debuts with only the latter going on to play a second test.
Crane’s elevation after taking 75 wickets at 44 in 29 first class matches could be seen in the same vein but for Joe Root’s assertion to the contrary as he plots a win that he thinks is vital to England’s success on their next trip Down Under.
“I want us to be the best side in the world ... and it’s not going to happen by chucking guys in for the last game of a series,” he said.
“So it’s really important that we do it in a way which, over the next four years, gets us in the best place to perform well here, but throughout that period being as successful as we can be.”
The art of spinning the ball away from a right-handed batsman using the fingers and a full flick of the wrist can produce spectacular results but also be difficult to control.
It has provided two of the most memorable moments in Ashes cricket - the Eric Hollies googly that bowled Don Bradman in the great Australian’s final innings and the “Ball of the Century” with which Shane Warne dismissed Mike Gatting in 1993.
It can also be an expensive, though, as Warne had discovered on his test debut at the SCG the previous year when he took 1-150 against India.
While Warne was the greatest in a long line of top class Australian “leggies” also including Bill “Tiger” O’Reilly, Richie Benaud and Stuart MacGill, the English have often been accused of lacking the patience to develop the skill.
Borthwick’s return of 4-82 from his leg spin in a losing cause at the SCG in 2014 was decent enough but he never played another test, while Adil Rashid has since ended up on the test scrapheap after 10 matches, all abroad.
Crane’s development may mark a sea change to this attitude and, while still not a regular for his county Hampshire, he has already played two T20 internationals.
He linked up with MacGill when he came over to Australia in 2016-17 to play for Sydney’s Gordon club and three seven-wicket hauls earned him a New South Wales call-up, the first for a foreigner since Imran Khan in 1984-85.
He took 5-116 in his only Sheffield Shield game against South Australia, a match played at the SCG where he will make his debut on Thursday after once again working with MacGill.
Leg-spinners have to be aggressive and confident and it has been Crane’s attitude that has most impressed his captain.
“He showed in the T20 matches that he’s right up for international cricket and he’s not someone who’s going to back down,” Root said on Wednesday.
“On this surface, he’s going to be a really good option. It looks like it’s going to give a bit of turn throughout.”
Editing by Amlan Chakraborty