England poised to give Crane Test debut

Mason Crane looks set to make his Test debut in the final match of the Ashes series in Sydney.

Crane, the 20-year-old leg-spinner, is set to come into the team in place of either Moeen Ali or Tom Curran as England take the opportunity to blood a new player with the series already decided and the whitewash averted.

While it remains possible that Moeen could retain his place if it seems conditions will justify the selection of two spin bowlers, it appears Crane will be first choice if England go in with only one slow bowler.

The selection would continue a remarkable journey for Crane. Just over a year ago, he was in Sydney playing Grade cricket for Gordon in a bid to gain experience. So well did it go – he claimed four five-fors and three seven-fors on the way to becoming the leading wicket-taker in New South Wales premier cricket – he was selected for New South Wales’ Sheffield Shield side. That made him their first overseas player since Imran Khan in 1984-85, and their first English player since William Caffyn in the 1960s. He performed admirably, too, with five wickets in the match.

But his selection for a Test would be a huge promotion. He claimed only 16 Championship wickets in 2017 – at a cost of 44.68 apiece – and was far from an automatic piece in Hampshire’s side. On this Ashes tour, he has claimed five wickets in first-class matches at a cost of 58.29 apiece.

Moeen has endured a grim tour, however. As well as claiming just three wickets in the first four Tests at a cost of 135 apiece, he has looked devoid of confidence with the bat and averaged just 19.42. That miserable run culminated in a reckless, frantic innings of 20 in 14 deliveries in Melbourne that suggested he had lost faith in his defensive game against both spin and pace and ended with a catch in the covers.

Now, with the Ashes gone and England deciding that Moeen may benefit from a spell out if the firing line, Crane looks set to win his Test debut.

But while Trevor Bayliss, the England coach, admits that Moeen has had a miserable tour, he remains confident that, in the “long term” he will again prove himself a top England player.

“There’s no time like the present to find out if Mason is ready,” Trevor Bayliss, the England coach, said. “We think he’s a guy that has got the goods and the more he plays at this level the better he will get. You have got to start somewhere.

“Like any player, you go through highs and lows. The number of runs and wickets makes it one of his lows. But just a couple of months ago we were singing his praises as one of the best all-rounders in the world. Conditions are a bit different here and it’s taken him longer than he would have liked to feel comfortable; there’s not a lot of spin.

“He’s different to Nathan Lyon, who gets over-spin. Mo doesn’t and things don’t happen as quickly, without the bounce that Lyon gets. Mo is a free spirit and one or two shots or wickets and he will be off and running. So I’m not concerned long term.”

The fact that Australia have called up slow left-armer Ashton Agar suggests they, too, feel that the pitch will spin. And, if England are of the same mind, it seems inevitable they will want both spin options in the side.

“The type of wicket we play on might play a part too,” Bayliss said. “Normally that you can easily play two spinners but looking at the wicket it looked like it had a decent covering of grass.

“I think it will still spin towards the end of the game – it’s still the same soil – but we will just have to take a look. There’s been no decision right now. And with the series lost it gives us an opportunity to look at some different people.”

Meanwhile England confirmed that Saqlain Mushtaq and Stuart MacGill – both spin bowling consultants – would be working for England in the coming weeks. Saqlain, who has worked for England in a part-time capacity for some time, has recently signed a new contract committing him to more hours than ever in 2018, while MacGill, who worked with Crane when he was playing Grade cricket a few months ago, will join the squad ahead of the Sydney Test.


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