England’s Mason Crane passes the Shane Warne test on Ashes debut | Ali Martin

The 20-year-old generated oohs and aahs from deliveries that troubled Australia’s batsmen and had Warne praising his line and ability to spin the ball hard

The second day of the fifth Ashes Test in Sydney was one of crisp blue skies and beautiful batting conditions, bringing with it a nagging sense of what might have been for England’s specialists after the previous evening’s two-wicket, nightwatchman-less cluster against the second new ball.

Nevertheless, the tail wagged for the second Test in a row and 346 all out gave England a total from which they have never lost before at the SCG, even if we have learned over the last two winters that the current generation possess an ability to torch such statistical comforts in rather inglorious fashion.

These thoughts were on the rise at the end of three sun-drenched sessions in front of a burbling 43,846-strong crowd, as Australia closed on 193 for two with Steve Smith ominously poised on 44. But there was distraction at least, with this also the latest new dawn in English leg-spin as Mason Crane got his first taste of the Test arena.

Crane had spent the first day with his feet up watching the batsmen largely live up to various expectations. Though there was a brief stint with the pads on late in the evening session – “I was asked to volunteer,” he said, jokingly – Jonny Bairstow instead decided to regretfully eschew such tail-end protection.

Thus it was on the second morning that Crane entered the fray with bat in hand, amid the frenzied session of lower-order swish from Tom Curran and Stuart Broad. Four runs were added to the greater cause from his new home at No10, before sacrificing himself when Jimmy Anderson set off for a run that was not to see England’s innings end in slightly slapstick fashion. “I enjoyed all seven balls,” Crane said. “I love batting. I just wish I was better at it.”

But it is with the ball where the 20-year-old was striving to make an impact on the ground he briefly called home last year during a surprise appearance for New South Wales. That spell came at the end of a bumper winter playing grade cricket for Gordon CC under the stewardship of Stuart MacGill, with the aggressive former Australia leg-spinner, whose first three initials are SCG, spending the buildup this week once again relaxing his apprentice in training.

Crane had described himself as “bricking it” when first called on by his captain during the Sheffield Shield debut in March that returned five wickets. And so for all the confidence this bubbly character exudes, there was always going to be a twang or two of nerves when, in front of a full house, Joe Root turned to his shiny new toy 14 overs in, with Australia 44 for one and two left-handers at the crease in David Warner and Usman Khawaja.

What followed were three perfectly capable spells that returned figures of 17 overs, none for 58 and demonstrated that England’s youngest specialist spinner since Ian Peebles 90 years ago was not to be overawed. Sure, there was the odd aberration – such is the wrist-spinner’s lot in life – and a number of aborted run-ups that grew thin with the crowd. These prompted a wry smile or two from the youngster, who explained perfectionism as the reason why he stops himself.

But there were also oohs and aahs generated from deliveries that had batsmen in trouble, with Crane bounding in, getting good energy on the ball and always striving for as many revs as possible. On another day a fizzer that took the inside of Khawaja’s bat may have carried to Mark Stoneman at short leg, while twice Root at first slip was just out of reach when the left-hander and Smith both edged deliveries.

In the commentary box Shane Warne was also impressed with what he saw. “His action is balanced nicely, he has momentum exploding through the crease which is good,” said the greatest protagonist of cricket’s toughest discipline on Channel 9. “Normally younger spinners these days bowl flatter and faster because of white-ball cricket. But the nice thing about him is he bowls a nice line and spins the ball hard at 83kph [51mph], which is not too fast.”

Drawing huge conclusions from such a first outing would be premature. Warne, after all, took one for 150 in his maiden Test at the SCG 26 years ago, while England’s last leg-spinner, Adil Rashid, opened up with record worst figures for a debutant of none for 163 against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi three years ago before claiming five wickets in the second innings.

But on a day in which Australia started to take a grip, Khawaja grew in confidence and Smith continued his vice-like control over England’s bowlers to give rise to the spectre of a 4-0 Ashes defeat, Crane’s first taste of Test cricket – and vice versa – was nevertheless encouraging.


Ali Martin at the SCG

The GuardianTramp

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