It’s not often that I get guest submissions from people who actually know a thing or two about cricket. Longterm readers of TFT will know that we usually just wing it. As editor I might occasionally seem like I know what I’m talking about, but believe me my articles are usually just a combination of hypothesis and semi-educated guesswork.
That’s why today’s article is a bit of a treat. It’s from Danny Gibbs, who plays representative cricket in New Zealand. He has studied leg spin from a young age, is currently training with a first class side, and has had the opportunity to pick some very knowledgable brains.
Interestingly he thinks that Mason Crane has star potential, and that our selectors were spot on to fast-track him into the England squad despite his inexperience. What’s more, he’s a kiwi, so his perspective should be independent and objective. Over to you Danny …
Reaction to Mason Crane’s call up to the England squad for the upcoming Test Matches has been barbaric, fickle, and incredibly subjective. As a New Zealander educated in the art of spin bowling, by both coaches who are former internationals and first class spin bowlers (as well as people who have an appreciation and understanding of spin bowling in general), I feel I am in an objective position to pass judgement.
Mason Crane is the best spin bowling prospect in the world. I have not seen a talent like him in a very long time. The conflicting opinions of the general English cricketing public emphasise many people’s lack of knowledge about spin bowling.
Having spent two years living and playing league cricket in England (in Yorkshire and Wiltshire), there is a fascination, a fixation, and a ridiculous reliance on statistics as a medium of judgement on players. It is infuriating and incomprehensible. In John Arlott’s biography of Sir Jack Hobbs, he notes how The Master himself said the game would be better if statistics were not a part of it. In this case, I wish this idealist view of England’s greatest ever batsman was reality.
Many of the comments I have seen posted by England supporters on various social media platforms argue that Adil Rashid should’ve been picked over Mason Crane. I can see why this postulation is conceived. Rashid has been a steady performer for many years in county cricket and he is a decent bowler. But once again people use statistics to justify their opinion. However, I urge the reader to keep an open mind and hear me out as I explain why Crane is a better bowler with abundant potential.
Firstly, Crane bowls the stock leg break better than Rashid. This is crucial because the stock ball is the ball that a leg spinner bowls the most; therefore it’s also the ball that takes the most wickets.
Crane bowls the leg break better than Rashid for a number of reasons. Crane is a natural wrist spinner. And when a bowler is a natural wrist spinner, he does not need to be taught how to grip, or spin the leg break, both from hand to hand, and in the bowling motion.
Not many wrist spinners are natural wrist spinners. If you watch Mason Crane bowl the leg break, in comparison to Adil Rashid, you will notice that the flight of the ball is different. This is due to contrasts in their action. Crane bowls in a very natural, fluent motion, where the ball looks like it glides out of the hand, even though there are significant revolutions on the ball itself. Upon reaching its apex, the ball drops very sharply. Only natural wrist spinners can flight the ball like this. I have seen it first hand, and believe me, if you are lucky enough to see this close up, it is special.
In contrast, Rashid’s action is contrived. He has clearly been taught, or coached by someone in his younger days who believed it was important to change his action to be more mechanical. The jump inwards, the raising of his front arm, and bowling arm, in the manner they do, is not natural – it has been ingrained into him, and he has obviously worked very hard to make the action repeatable and get the most out of it.
None of this means that Rashid is a bad bowler. He still spins the ball well, and gets it to turn consistently (spin and turn are different, spin is what the bowler imparts on the ball upon release, turn is what the ball does upon pitching). However, it would not surprise me if he possibly had a serious injury of some kind in his youth, which forced him to bowl the way he does.
Because of these factors, Rashid cannot get the natural curve, or the sharp dip and bounce, that Crane can get. If you were to watch footage of the former Indian leg spinner, Laxman Sivaramakrishnan (possibly the greatest natural leg spinner the game has ever seen) or Abdul Qadir of Pakistan, Stuart MacGill of Australia, and going back further, Chuck Fleetwood-Smith and Arthur Mailey of Australia, in comparison to any wrist spin bowler in county cricket today aside from Crane, you would have to be blind to not see the difference in class.
Crane is nowhere near that class of bowler, yet, but he certainly has the potential to be. New South Wales quickly recognised his talent by picking him towards the end of the last Sheffield Shield season, whilst Crane was playing first grade cricket in Sydney. He became the first overseas player to play for New South Wales since Imran Khan. Now, if an Australian state side is picking a very young spin bowler, and a very young English spin bowler at that, what does it say? The Aussies knew how good Crane is. What a shame that many people in his own country do not.
On to statistics. Many England fans on social media are saying Crane averages just 41 in county cricket, and he has not played enough first class cricket to warrant selection. The second part of this statement I can definitely reason with. Ideally Crane would play at least another two seasons before making the step up to the England side. However, current circumstances dictate otherwise – which could potentially be a massive boost to England.
What’s more, selecting players purely on numerical data is utterly ridiculous. At this stage I must pass on my thanks to A.C. MacLaren, who decided to take the greatest bowler of all time, S.F. Barnes on the Australian tour of 1901-02, after only facing him in the nets. Prior to this Barnes had only played a few games for Lancashire and Warwickshire, and barely taken over 10 wickets. But MacLaren knew how good he was – and thanks to him, Barnes is now an integral part of cricketing history. Imagine if MacLaren had placed emphasis on statistics then? Barnes would not have gone to Australia and torn through one of the greatest Australian sides ever, making the great Victor Trumper, and Clem Hill look average.
If Mason Crane does get a chance to play in the series against the West Indies, I will be very excited to watch. He will be playing under an enthusiastic and positive captain in Joe Root, which will help him immensely.
If he does find his feet early in his Test Match career, Crane could be a vital asset to the English side during the Ashes. I can see him being very successful in Australia if he gets a chance. It would be a great test for a young spin bowler of Crane’s quality and potential, and he would be significantly tested mentally – a great and exciting challenge.
I urge the English supporters who do not agree with Mason Crane’s selection to objectify their stance. I would kill to see him playing for New Zealand. If he was Australian, Crane would be truly seen as the gift that he is. I really hope the English public can grow to see him in the same light.