(Photo: Getty Images)
By Charlie Talbot-Smith
ENGLAND should have absolutely no fear about throwing Mason Crane into the upcoming Ashes series – according to his mentor and former coach.
Former Hampshire and Middlesex spinner Raj Maru discovered the ‘special’ Crane as director of cricket at Lancing College when the-then 13-year-old had been discarded by his boyhood county of Sussex.
Maru convinced Hampshire to take a look at the young leg-spinner – who made his England debut this June in a T20 series against South Africa that saw him dismiss AB de Villiers.
Since moving to the Ageas Bowl it has been a rapid rise for Crane who could now be on the verge of a Test debut.
The side-injury to Moeen Ali has shortened his odds still further and head coach Trevor Bayliss is on the record with his admiration for the ‘feisty’ 20-year-old.
And Maru – who still speaks to Crane regularly including over email this past weekend – has long known that Crane was destined for the very top.
“Everything that has been thrown his way he has managed to come out on top,” said the 55-year-old.
“When he was at school, he only ever played one game in his own age-group, otherwise from year one he was in the first XI all the way through.
“He always had that something special. We took him to Cape Town on three tours with the first XI and he bamboozled players out there who were a lot older and stronger than him.
“That’s his character, he relishes a challenge, but also he’s very bright, he knows where to bowl, from what end and with what field.
“His attitude was good, he could do something straight away and you could see that progression, but he was challenging as well – he wanted to know the whys and whats.
“He was raring to go and he always performed better with better teams.”
In the white-hot heat of an Ashes series, throwing youngsters who are not ready into the fire can ruin an international career – see Simon Kerrigan or Scott Borthwick for proof of that.
“But Crane is more than ready, whether as the main spinner or in tandem with Ali, according to Maru. Even if the likes of David Warner come after him.
“He is a fiery character, he has got that bit of oomph and go about him,” he added.
“He is not the sort of lad that backs down very easily. If he does manage to play this Ashes he will be able to cope.
“As a youngster on his own, going out to Australia last winter, playing club cricket and then that Shield game as a Pom – the stick he must have taken on his own out there – that just shows his character.
“He managed to cope and deal with it all, he has dealt with it at schoolboy level playing against bigger and older teams and it has never been an issue.
“He wouldn’t get into verbal stuff, but if somebody did pick on him he just thrived on it even more. He thrives on it, to prove people wrong.
“He wouldn’t react to it, physically or verbally, but he would let his bowling do the talking.”
Indeed after becoming the first foreigner to appear for NSW in the Sheffield Shield since Imran Khan last winter, Crane has already been back in action Down Under – taking 2-75 in England’s first warm-up game in Perth.
He only played seven first-class games this past summer however, taking 16 wickets at 44.69, and his career average is also the wrong side of 40.
But these underwhelming numbers mean nothing to Maru, who is confident Crane is destined for great things.
“People say he only played seven County Championship games last season, that’s not his fault considering he was often away with England or used in a defensive holding role,” he added.
“The only time he had to come in and bowl a team out was at Taunton and he did that magnificently.
“People are going to go after him, but (AB) De Villiers went after him in that T20 competition and we saw what was the end result there.
“We saw that in this first warm-up game in Australia when they went after him but he ended up with two crucial wickets.
“He looks really special. He looks like he can actually go through teams and he has the confidence to do it.”
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