Crane's exoticism atones for lack of impact

Mason Crane roars the appeal that became void by the no-ball decision Getty Images

Mason Crane is bowling to an assistant coach. On the makeshift surface, he gets excellent purchase. After he's bowled a handful of balls, Ian Chappell walks over and stands as if he's the umpire. Crane doesn't react; he just continues to bowl. If Crane knew who Chappell was, he didn't react to him. He just prepared as Chappell looked on eagerly.

A week earlier Tom Curran was bowling warm-ups before his own Test debut; the commentators barely paid him any attention. Curran's a fast-medium bowler, that's a fine noble tradition. Crane is a legspinner, that's an object of lust and desire. When Chappell was asked why he went to watch Crane bowl, he said it was for his own edification.

We all get excited about legspin, cricket's dark art, the back-of-the-hand merchant. You throw in a young one who's played for NSW and Hampshire before most people have had their heart broken and the intrigue levels go up. And we know intellectually that young leggies struggle; that cricket's largest graveyard is devoted to all the brave souls who tried and failed to bowl it.

But we don't care; we want to be edified, entertained and enraptured by it. It could be magical; it could be fantastical, it could all end terribly. Sometimes all in the space of one ball.


Crane is about to come on, you can sense it. Leggiemongers grab their binoculars from their bags; people lean forward, there is a different kind of noise - as if something, whatever that may be, is about to happen. As if someone has pressed the silent legspin alarm.

The first ball Crane delivered in Test cricket got stuck in his hand; he was lucky Warner didn't knock it out of the park. The next ball Crane aborted as he reached his run-up because the field wasn't set. Then he slid a ball down the leg side, When his third ball was on line, he was given ironic cheers. He finished the over with another rank short ball.

The next over had a full toss, another rubbish ball down the leg side, and another half-tracker. He bowled more balls down the leg side following this, had he been bowling to a right-hander, he would have been bowling well. In all his first few overs include five half-trackers, four down leg and four full tosses, but Australia hasn't hit him out of the attack, and Crane settles.

When he does, it becomes about what he is bowling. Is that a wrong'un? I mean Warner adjusted his hands weird; it didn't spin, much, maybe it went straight on. Is his grip okay? That run-up is a bit long. Every detail is occasionally expertly, and often amateurishly, overanalysed.

As the day goes on, Crane starts to move his field around, often not even consulting Joe Root. He lands the ball more and more in the right area. He's not an accurate bowler, he might never be, his grouping is scattered more like a fast bowler than a spinner. But Australia don't go after him; they also don't milk him that much.

There aren't many chances, or even half-chances. Some balls hit the pads, and Crane optimistically enquires on his own, there's an inside-edge that pops close enough to short leg, another edge short of slip, and then a big edge from Usman Khajawa that bissects Bairstow and Root perfectly. On the first day, this is as close as Crane gets to a wicket.


In the last over before lunch, the ball looped up off the pad, maybe the bat, or the glove, depending on who you spoke to.

During the last T20 season in England, Crane spent a bit of time bowling with no midwicket, and so every time the ball was hit out there he would have to sprint to try to save the second run. Crane moves pretty well.

This time he's not trying to save a T20 run, he's trying to take a catch, and he's flinging himself at the ball desperately, hoping. He was never that close, it was always out of reach. And it's possible Khawaja didn't hit it.

Two balls later, Khawaja leaves the ball; Crane puts in a full-blooded appeal, it goes on far longer than it needs to, as he gets desperate. But it's not out. England review, and instantly his front foot looks so close to a no-ball. If you willed yourself to see something behind the line, you might be able to do so, but it would be hard for an umpire to agree with you. It's given as a no-ball, Crane remonstrates with Kumar Dharmensena, he and Broad point to the crease, but there's nothing that can be done.

Crane is finishing his over when the ball-tracking comes up on screen. It's pretty clear that Khawaja left the ball, so even though it hits him outside off stump, it can still be out as long as it's going on to hit the stumps. And, it was. Crane, like Tom Curran at Melbourne, has lost his first Test wicket because his foot couldn't stay behind the line.

The last ball before lunch Crane drags another ball short, it's a poor ball in what is probably his best over, and Khawaja smashes it into Mark Stoneman at short leg.


Steve Smith's foot doesn't go towards the ball; it opens up a little, his back foot actually backs away. It allows Smith to punch a straight full delivery through the covers. Earlier there had been a deep cover, but Smith was picking up singles so nonchalantly they tried to block the gap, but Smith just changes how he stands and finds the gap with ease.

In his first 30.4 overs, Crane bowled to mostly left-handers, are who typically better at playing legspin, and one right-hander. That was Steve Smith.

When Mitch Marsh came out to face him, he missed three of the first four balls Crane bowled.

If you're young, have a poor first-class record, are making your debut in an Ashes Test, and bowling to left-handers and the world's best batsman for most of that time, those are terrible circumstances in which to start your career.

"Every detail of Crane's technique is occasionally expertly, and often amateurishly, overanalysed"

Crane was not terrible, and nor was he amazing. Considering he's not a very accurate bowler, he actually bowled reasonably tightly. If anything, he seemed to lack the killer balls that tormented grade cricketers in Sydney, or the ones that have made him a real handful in the fourth innings for Hampshire. His best balls were often polite regulated legspin, the vicious turn he hinted at in his warm-ups never materialised. His wrong'un was mostly picked and always handled. It was a debut that didn't match the hype (which is hardly his fault) but was probably better than you'd expect from a 20-year-old. He went for less than four runs an over and stayed in the attack for some long spells.

He was adequate, not rubbish, Which might not sound inspiring, or exciting, but that's a hell of an achievement in itself.


There's a heated exchange, maybe animated is the best word for it. Joe Root and Mason Crane disagree on something. It seems like the field; Root clearly has one idea, Crane another. They gesture widely at each other. Despite only being young and new, and talking to one of the best batsmen in the world, Crane doesn't back down, and seems to get his way.

Two balls later, Khawaja runs down the wicket; it seems as though Crane sees him coming. While his pitch map from CricViz is a bit all over the place, this delivery does seem to be near perfectly short and wide to ensure the charging batsman misses it. Khawaja is stretched out across the pitch, his back foot well outside leg, his bat almost off the pitch on the offside. It spins too, enough to beat the inside edge, and with Khawaja's bat drawn a long way from his body, Bairstow gets a nice early look at the ball, and he takes the bails off.

Crane is screaming "come on, come on", and he looks nervous, taking deep breaths like he's not sure how he should react to his 184th ball in Tests taking him a wicket. Had he taken this yesterday, or with the game still in England's favour, you could see how he might explode, but the score is 375 for 4. There's also a quick look-up at the big screen, not to enjoy the highlight, but to hope there isn't going to be another surprise no-ball. Crane wipes sweat off his face as his foot is shown to be legal.

Despite bowling some good deliveries, growing in confidence, showing he might have what it takes to belong, and being the centre of attention for most of the day, this will be the only wicket Crane takes.


At the end of day one Crane was walking across the outfield until he got to where BT Sport were filming to make one of his media appearances. The producer took him aside and showed him where he had to go. The desk was already full; Mike Hussey was on the end, Graeme Swann next to him, then Geoffrey Boycott and the host Matt Smith. It was next to Smith that Crane was supposed to stand. When he stood there, Boycott put his arm around him.

Mason Crane had bowled 17 overs for 58 runs; there was no reason for him to be on BT, there was no crowning achievement or moment of glory. But Crane isn't a cricketer; he's a legspinner. Cricket's fetish item.

While official stats on this are hard to come by, his approximately 16 aborted deliveries are thought to be a record in the first innings at the SCG. The crowd jeered him every time he didn't deliver. He was the most exciting guy on the ground even when he didn't bowl. That's legspin. It's incredible, captivating, even when it doesn't deliver.