Potential To Be Special: Why The Selectors Were Right To Pick Mason Crane

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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.

Danny Gibbs

30 Comments

  1. I was fortunate enough to see Crane bowl at the Ageas Bowl last night. For one so young he seems to have all of the attributes to be a great leg spinner: he gives it a good rip while maintaining control, isn’t afraid to toss the ball up and doesn’t panic if the batsman tries to get after him. Glamorgan’s batsmen certainly had no answers.

    I would certainly give Crane a debut against the Windies – perhaps not in the day/night Test but definitely in the next one. England have so many all-rounders, they could play him as one of 6 bowlers to reduce the pressure on him. Much more sensible than throwing him raw into an Ashes Test where the Aussie batsmen will attack him from the outset.

    • 100% agree on not to play him in the day/night test. If I were picking the England side I would play him in the final two tests, no matter what. England need to maintain balance in their team selection, 6 genuine bowling options is too many; it confuses the captain. If Crane is going to play he should come in for Roland-Jones (unfortunately someone has to miss out; can’t drop Anderson or Broad!), so there is a 3 seamers, 2 spinners balance. Leg spin bowlers should always be attacking, which Crane is; the big issue that I believe will happen in the Ashes is that Australia will be very aggressive against Moeen Ali. Moeen is developing into a fine test match spin bowler, but he does not seem to have strong self belief with the ball. He has good shape on his stock ball, but he does not overspin the ball to the same extent Nathan Lyon does. This could potentially cause him trouble, as bounce is just as important as turn, especially in Australia (Graeme Swann always lacked bounce due to his jump inwards; excellent bowler nonetheless and bowled beautifully in the 2010/11 Ashes). He very much goes into his shell when he is attacked. Against Australia, in Australia, he will be under severe attack against excellent players of spin bowling, and the crowds will be ruthless. If he succumbs to the pressure in Australia, he will not survive. If this hypothesis is to come to fruition, Crane will have an unbelievable opportunity to step up. And I genuinely believe he is good enough to do so. I can’t wait to watch this summer.

      • What’s your evidence for 6 bowlers confusing Joe Root?

        If the reason for playing Mason Crane is concerns about Moeen Ali’s ability against Australia, replacing Toby Rowland-Jones with Mason Crane means England are down a fast bowler and still potentially only have one usable spinner.

        If England could be sure Mason Crane is the best spinner available, then it’d make sense for him to come in for Moeen Ali instead — in which case Moeen might still make the team as a batter (at 7), moving Jonny Bairstow back up to 5.

        If England aren’t sure enough about Mason Crane yet to trust him as the only spinner, then it makes sense to keep Moeen Ali around as a back-up (“the second spinner”, as it were …), in which case not reducing the fast bowling attack suggests having 6 bowlers. With Moeen Ali and Ben Stokes both batting in the top 7, there are enough spaces to have 6 bowlers, so why not?

        • Second test against South Africa. Anderson, Broad, Wood, Stokes, Ali, Dawson. Six genuine bowling options creates imbalance in test cricket, England have the ability of it being a potential option due to having players like Bairstow and Ali who could bat in the middle order, thus allowing more bowling options to play. However, during the second test it was obvious Root felt he had to bowl Dawson more overs than he should have; many of the commentators were also pointing it out. Captaincy in test cricket is a task of attrition – especially for an English captain in an Ashes series in Australia. Juggling six bowlers is a difficult task, as well as it being more mentally taxing on the all rounders in the side. I can see your point, as you need 20 wickets to win a test match; but you also need to score more runs than the other team. I certainly believe any five out of Anderson, Broad, Roland-Jones, Stokes, Ali, and Crane would have the ability to take 20 Australian wickets over five days.

          • Australia tends to produce “corporate pitches” these days (whether this is a deliberate policy or simply the result of using drop-in-pitches is debatable). I hope your right but I don’t share your confidence in Anderson, Broad, Roland-Jones, Stokes, Ali, and Crane to consistently take 20 Australian wickets on such pitches.

  2. From Root’s comments today in the press, he is there to become comfortable with the set up so I wouldn’t expect him to play unless they look at a pitch and think it will spin from day 1. Depends how Malan bats I guess, if he gets runs in the first game they won’t be able to drop him and won’t drop a pace bowler for a spinner

    In terms of Rashid its more disappointed that after investing in him since 2015 he had dropped behind Liam Dawson in the pecking order after out bowling Moeen Ali by a distance in the winter.

  3. David McGaughey on

    This is very patronising and disingenuous.
    I don’t think there has been a massively negative reaction to Crane being picked, it’s just that people are appropriately suspicious and put out by the singularly contemptuous treatment Rashid has received from the selectors over much of the last decade.
    And of course, it is ludicrous, glib and utterly self-indulgent to be so dismissive of statistics. Statistics are sport, Sport is statistics. It may not always be the obvious statistics, but it just is, otherwise we’re all just perpetually in the nets, showing off. Or is Mark Lathwell a better opener than Graeme Smith, and Phil Tufnell a better left-arm spinner than Rangana Herath?

    I’ve enjoyed watching Crane bowl so far, I hope he does well. It’s not this selection in and of itself that is the problem, it’s the juxtaposition with the selection of Dawson which makes the spin selection policy seem ill-conceived and unfair.

    • No question Rashid has not been given the opportunities he should have for England. How in the world James Tredwell played instead of Rashid in one day internationals for as long as he did is mind-blowing to me. Perhaps I am friends with, and follow too many Yorkshiremen on social media; but the majority of criticism I have seen about this selection has significantly lacked decorum and knowledge.

      I am not entirely dismissing statistics. I am trying to say they are not the sole form of judgement a cricketer should face.

      Definitely agree with your last point. 100% correct.

      • David McGaughey on

        Yup – fair enough. My response was a bit rude, sorry. I think I understood what you meant.
        I agree Crane looks like a natural spinner despite his record so far – it might be a bit like Flintoff, who just didn’t take the wickets he deserved in test cricket for years and was averaging over 40 despite bowling good, tight spells, and then just slightly shifted something, and the wickets started coming

      • That seems an entirely fair response, Danny.

        As an unabashed Rashid promoter, I have to say that the only hesitation I have about the selection of Crane is the fear that England manage to muck up his confidence and/or development.

        • They’ll probably mess with his action because it doesn’t tick a bunch of boxes derived by someone with no knowledge of biomechanics.

          He will then have two options: a) do what he is told, conform to a new action, and never be anywhere near as effective again but still get picked for England provided he averages 40 with the bat, or b) have it leaked to the press that he is a chucker and/or immature and emotionally unstable.

  4. Mason Crane’s last three first class outings: tail end wickets against Lancashire and wicketless against South Africa A and South Africa at about 5 an over too. He’s clearly got a seat on the plane to Oz though. I would have liked to have seen further investment in Rashid, having got around ten caps under his belt he could possibly have gone on and prospered but I’ll back anyone who plays for England and sincerely hope that Crane excels. I’m sure he’ll have to wait ’til after the day/nighter though.

    England clearly have no time for Leach but hopefully Bess, Parkinson and Qadri can provide exciting competition for the next decade or more.

    • A plane ticket to Aus is not a particularly pleasant gift for a young spinner just trying to break into international cricket.

  5. Lovely, passionate article and you make a great case.
    It seems possible now that Crane will make the ashes tour, but realistically England only need one spinner there , certainly for the first 4 tests. It used to be an argument to play 2 at Adelaide but now that is a pink ball test again you only need 1.
    So the two spinner option may not be mused over until the SCG, let’s say its 2-2 and we only need a draw to retain the ashes… Would you chuck Crane in?

    • If I was in charge I would play Crane in all five tests. There is always some benefit to the spin bowler who over spins the ball hard in Australia. In Australia, Crane would be able to get the dip and bounce required to force false strokes and expose technical deficiencies in batsman. If he was to play in all five Ashes tests the experience that he would gain would be extremely beneficial to his long term career; he would have potentially a few more chances to go back to Australia on Ashes tours and rip through Australian batting line ups for at least the next decade. I would be incredibly surprised if he was to play in all five tests, but I feel it would be harsh on him to be used as a ‘go to’ type of bowler, in the type of scenario you are suggesting.

      • They actually could do that. Whether they will remains to be seen, but with a plethora of all rounders likely to start the series (Stokes, Bairstow, Mo & Woakes) you can afford a luxury pick.
        Malan or Crane?

  6. But MC has serious competition from Matt Parkinson.

    I hope Danny Gibbs was able to see him bowl two nights ago against Yorkshire in atrocious conditions. He came on in heavy rain, soaking ball when Yorks openners had ‘blasted’ 90.

    Amazingly accurate in the circumstances. Fantastic dip which was clearly giving the batsmen a major problem. 4 – 23. Of course spinners have to trade drift for dip. And normally consistency for revs, but Parkinson’s control was exceptional.

    And how much is T20 the ultimate test?

    Here are his T20 figures: 7 matches 144 runs 12 wkts for 12.33 each.

    Loughborough will know the difference in revs these two get.

    Interesting times.

    • I saw the wicket taking deliveries in the highlights of the T20 games vs Yorkshire. Always a great effort for any spin bowler who actually ‘spins’ the ball hard, in wet conditions.

      I just watched some footage of Parkinson playing in the County Championship. There is not a lot of footage of him, but I will say that he is a good prospect.

      However, personally I rate Crane higher than him for a couple of reasons: the arc Crane gets on his stock leg break is much more threatening than that of Parkinson’s. This is due to a number of factors, the most obvious being the length of their delivery strides, and how they drive through the crease in the bowling motion. If you watch footage of both of Crane and Parkinson bowling, take note of the motion of their right hips. Because Parkinson’s delivery stride is very long (this is not a bad thing, if he does this naturally I sure bloody hope no one ever changes it), this causes his right hip to drive forwards significantly, otherwise the ball would simply not get down the other end at a full length. In turn, this movement of Parkinson’s right hip causes his pivot to not be as strong as other wrist spin bowlers (again, not a bad thing), if you watch his left foot when it lands, it lands flat, and the heel hardly leaves the ground. All of these factors cause the stock leg break Parkinson bowls to have more side spin than the stereotypical leg break (45 degree seam angle). But is it a bad stock ball? Hell no. It is a very good stock ball and a very promising stock ball, and I sure hope he sticks with it. It is easier to bowl a ball with side spin at a fuller length, hence why Parkinson seems to have a good control of length. The only thing Parkinson will struggle to do is make the ball dip and bounce sharply, but he will make up for this by being extremely accurate if he continues to develop the way he is.

      What you will notice with Mason Crane in comparison to Parkinson is that his delivery stride is a more orthodox length. What this enables him to do is drive his right hip upwards in the bowling motion, thus allowing him to have a stronger and longer pivot (he really gets up on the ball of his left foot, a perfect position at release), and the ball will always go upwards out of the hand. This enables the stock ball of Crane to have more overspin, therefore, more flight, more dip, and more bounce than that of Parkinson. Crane can really get the ball to turn and bounce quickly, and pace off the pitch is extremely valuable to any spin bowler. It is what exposes technical deficiencies, especially hard hands in forward defensive strokes. This combined with the natural flight and dip Crane gets, is an exceptional combination.

      It would not surprise me if Crane and Parkinson both imparted a similar about of revolutions on the ball. The differences in their bowling are down to the factors I just mentioned, as well as the natural gift Crane has. Side spin allows the ball to curve more, and also turn more if the surface allows, and just as threatening is almost perfect side spin (90 degree angle seam position), as the ball will skid straight on very quickly off the surface, or on dry pitches the ball will turn back violently as well as skid on irregularly on occasion – a nightmare for batsman. Examples of this is the delivery Shane Warne bowled to Andrew Strauss at Edgbaston in the 2005 Ashes, and also the great West Indian left arm orthodox spinner, Alf Valentine, who side spun the ball violently. By overspinning the ball hard, it allows any spin bowler to be threatening anywhere in the world, because you can deceive batsman in the air, if the pitch is not offering any assistance. As well as this, it allows the bowler every single possible chance to extract any possible assistance from the pitch. The stock leg break of Mason Crane will not curve as much as Parkinson’s, but Crane’s will also dip more significantly – a difficult combination to play.

      Parkinson and Crane are very different bowlers, this does not mean one is good and one is bad. They both have different assets as bowlers, and different natural abilities. This is a very exciting time for England. One day in the near future could England be playing two leg spinners in their playing XI? I would certainly love to see it happen.

  7. Could I pick up on “Silly Point’s” post about Jack Leach – 25 Div.1 wickets at 33, economy 2.83. The ECB’s claims about his action were clearly nonsense, so what has he done wrong? Upset someone? Face doesn’t fit?

    • Good question. Surely the selectors can’t still be concerned about Roger’s comments that he is not ready “emotionally”? I would have thought that the way he dealt with being told his action was illegal speaks volumes about his maturity and character.

  8. Haven’t yet seen Crane – looking forward to it. Never rated Rashid, because he has no natural drive through the delivery and this limits his repertoire in terms of revs, drift, dip and turn. Plus no real leg break unless pitch ragging. A wrist spinner whose natural delivery drifts in to the batsman and then goes away from a length would be an attacking option for a Test captain to dream about. Rashid was never that option.

    • Great picture. As you can see the right hip and leg have driven forward significantly more than the stereotypical leg spinner; where the right hip drives more upwards. Parkinson is up on the toes of his left foot here, but the difference between him and Crane would be that Crane spends longer on the toes of his left foot than Parkinson – i.e. the pivot of Mason Crane is longer, therefore stronger than Parkinson’s. Going off the seam position in this picture I would posit that Parkinson has intended to bowl this particular delivery with more over spin than his stock ball. Hence why he is up on the toes of his left foot. This allows him to over spin the ball more. Excellent picture, thank you for sharing.

  9. Do we want to win the ashes now or do we want to build for the future. Potential is all Crane has at present. How long did it take Warne to make an impact at test level? Rashid already has. Crane maybe a better long term prospect, but Rashid has done nothing to warrant discarding. Then if Crane is injured or loses form, what frame of mind will Rashid be in as a short term replacement.
    A player must prove his worth before displacing an encumbent. Potential is not worth! I am sick of this cult of the young that permeates all walks of life at present. Crane must earn the right through performances. Talent is never enough. It needs application and consistency to warrant a call up at this level
    and if Crane fails against the windies what then? Rashid by default?

    • Warne was called up to the Australia side after playing barely ten first class games. Crane has played 25. It took Warne a few test matches to make an impact, in the form of match winning performances, but Australia knew how good he was, even Ravi Shastri told him after his debut in Sydney in 1992 when he took 1/150 that there would be days that he would bowl worse and take 5-fers.

      You are correct in saying that a player should have to prove his worth before earning international selection. But circumstances dictate that England have an absolute gem of a player in Crane, he really could be world class. Yes, Rashid has done nothing to warrant discarding, it just so happens at this time (unfortunately for Rashid) that England have another leg spin bowler who is a once in a generation talent. The more he is exposed to international cricket, and the more he is in the England environment, the quicker he will progress and fulfill his potential. The way Crane bowls is far more suited to conditions all over the world than Rashid, because of all the factors I have mentioned in the article and in the comments above.

      You must be ridiculous to think that if Crane was to play against the West Indies and ‘fails’ that he should lose his place. Totally absurd. I simply cannot get my head around this kind of subjective judgement from abundant cricket fans. If Crane was Australian, they would be rejoicing that they have found a bowler worthy to step into the shadows of Warne, Benaud, O’Reilly, Grimmett, and Mailey; with a very high chance of him being able to be mentioned in the same breath as those bowlers when his career comes to an end.

      I would be incredibly excited if I was an England fan right now. There is a high chance he could dominate world cricket for a solid decade. Yes, he’s young, yes, he has unbelievable talent and natural ability, but he has to start fulfilling it sometime. The sooner the better for England.

      • I think we are all incredibly excited. In fact, is it too early to describe Mason Crane as the greatest player of his generation? No. Its never too early.

        A small anecdote for you: Mason is actually so good, we daren’t even play him, in case he spins the ball so hard it creates a space-time vortex that destroys the solar system. This is the real reason he has been left out of the side at Edgbaston.

    • Why not save your judgement until you actually see more of him? Providing judgement without watching any cricketer over a prolonged period is just plain stupid. Combining that with an obvious lack of knowledge of spin bowling, in this case, is farcical.

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