Can England avoid a whitewash?
The scheduling of the county season is making it “tough” for young spinners to develop, according to Mason Crane.
A day after Dawid Malan warned against overbowling fast bowlers, Crane has suggested there is “more opportunity” for young spinners in Australia.
While Crane, the second spinner in the England squad, is grateful for the support he’s received from the ECB as a young player, he gently suggested that playing more Championship games “in the height of summer” and using the Kookaburra ball in county cricket might assist the development of spinners further.
His own example makes for an interesting case study. Having impressed in Grade cricket last year (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 on arriving back in England, he had to sit out several early season matches for Hampshire as they reasoned that, in such seam-friendly conditions, their spin-bowling duties could be fulfilled by the allrounder Liam Dawson. As a result, Crane found himself playing 2nd XI cricket for the first part of the season and didn’t feature in the Championship until May 19.
“It is tough at the moment,” Crane said. “Half the games are in either September or April. In September, for example, they start the games a bit earlier so there’s still some dew around. It’s difficult to play another spinner. They played another seamer instead.
“Even if you get a wicket where you think you might be playing, the weather suggests otherwise. And if it is going to be a two-and-a-half day game because of the rain, you probably want an extra seamer or batter. So it’s tough.
“There’s more opportunity out here. We play a lot of white-ball cricket during the height of summer in England. Getting as many games in the height of summer as we can would be ideal for spinners.”
Mason Crane is overjoyed at claiming AB de Villiers as his maiden international wicket © Getty Images
Another initiative Crane suggests is using the Kookaburra ball. The Duke’s ball, which is currently used in the County Championship, tends to offer prolonged assistance to seam and swing bowlers which can negate the need for spinners. The Dukes ball is also, Crane feels, tougher to grip when new for a spinner.
“Maybe we could use Kookaburra ball in England,” he said. “They use the Duke’s here sometimes. I reckon you can bowl with these Kookaburras straightaway, new out of the packet. Duke’s are a bit slimier when they are new but I don’t really mind.”
While Crane is grateful for the opportunities afforded him – notably the early promotion by Hampshire and England, the opportunity to work with Saqlain Mushtaq and the England age-group tours – he feels the trip to play Grade cricket and work with Stuart McGill was especially useful. And, while he has not currently had a chance to work with Shane Warne – they hoped to do so on the last day in Perth but the rain intervened – he hopes that will be arranged soon.
“I’ve had great experience playing with Hampshire,” he said. “I’ve played with some international players and I was lucky in the summer to be around the Test side for three games against West Indies. I’ve been to Australia and played a lot of Under-19 stuff. Warne’s the best ever so I want to pick his brains. I’ve had a couple of chats with him, but he’s not said anything about bowling yet.
“But as a young player, playing Grade cricket was one of the best things I could do. I was away from home for six months on my own. I had to learn all sorts of stuff and it’s brilliant to play with different players. I’d encourage any young player to come out.”
Crane dismissed the perception that English cricket is short of spin-bowling stocks, intimating that several other players in the early stages of their career have the potential to develop if given sufficient game time.
“There are exciting spinners in England. I think we are all reasonably similar ages as well. It is exciting to see because there are some very good bowlers out there. A lot of people say there are no spin bowlers but they are out there, they just need the time to play.”
It remains possible that Crane could gain that playing time in the Boxing Day Test. With Craig Overton unlikely to be considered having been diagnosed with a cracked rib, England could turn to either Crane or one of the seamers (probably Tom Curran or Mark Wood) with a final decision to be made only after a look at the pitch.
“I’ll be ready to play,” he said with confidence. “Even if it was a series decider I’d be confident I could do a job. We’ve done all the analysis. I’ve got plans for each of their batsmen.”
He has a plan for Smith? “Give him a single!” he replied with a smile.
Crane’s inclusion would, however, leave England with a No. 9 – his likely spot in the batting order – with a top first-class score of just 29. He has worked hard on his batting and it has clearly improved. But asking him to hang around against this attack is probably unreasonable at this stage.
While it remains possible that Wood or Curran could come in for Stuart Broad, the England management have played down the extent of Broad’s knee problem and it would be a major decision to drop such an experienced player. He has bowled better than his series average suggests, too.
England did not train on Friday. Reasoning that, at this stage of the series, their aches and pains – psychological as much as physical – might be better treated by rest, they were given another day to spend with their friends and families. Training resumes on Saturday.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.