In the aftermath of his side’s defeat in Perth last month which sealed Australia’s Ashes triumph, Trevor Bayliss bemoaned the lack of opportunities for English players in the Sheffield Shield.
Yet in leg-spinner Mason Crane, Bayliss and England will call on one man for the final Test at the SCG who has not only played Shield cricket but who did so at this very ground last March.
Crane has been on Bayliss’ radar ever since he was called up from Grade club Gordon to play for New South Wales against South Australia at the SCG last March.
The youngster, 19 at the time, had originally only come out to Australia to play for Gordon but some spectacular form at Grade level and then call-ups for Nathan Lyon and Steven O’Keefe for their country’s tour of India led to Crane getting his Shield debut.
He didn’t do badly either, taking five wickets in an attack that also included Pat Cummins and in a match New South Wales won by eight wickets.
No wonder then that Bayliss, the New South Wales coach before he took on the England job in 2015, was keen to get a look at the leggie.
Bayliss began by giving him his international debut in a T20 against South Africa at Southampton last June. In the next match, at Cardiff, Crane came out on top in a battle with AB De Villiers after the South African took a liking to his bowling but then succumbed as the Hampshire spinner bravely kept tossing the ball up to perhaps the most dangerous batsman in world cricket.
De Villiers remains Crane’s only international wicket but Bayliss clearly feels the 20-year-old is ready for his Test debut, hence his call up into the team for the final Magellan Ashes Test at SCG once it was confirmed seamer Chris Woakes would be missing with a side strain.
It’s a big call and anybody who remembers Simon Kerrigan’s nightmare Test debut in the final match of the 2013 Ashes at The Oval, knows how big a risk it is to hand a spinner his debut against Australia, even if it is in a dead rubber.
Crane, though, has been primed for this moment for months. Bayliss was planning to give him a Test debut against West Indies at Lord’s back in September, before England’s shock defeat in the second match of the series at Headingley meant that no longer became a viable option in the decider.
Yet Crane has played every single warm-up match during England’s time in Australia, mainly because Moeen Ali sustained an injury right from the very start of the tour. But it means he should be ready now to take his chance, especially coming at a ground where he has played before.
England captain Joe Root said: “The way Mason has conducted himself for the whole trip has been outstanding. For a young man to apply himself and absorb himself in the environment as he has is exactly what you are after.
“I can see a big progression in his game and the way he went about those T20s in an England shirt shows he is not going to back down from any challenge. He has bowled well when he has had the opportunities on this trip and it is a really good chance for him to show what he is capable of.”
Speaking at the start of the tour, Crane, who was the first overseas player to represent New South Wales since Imran Khan in 1984-85, certainly sounded excited rather than overawed about the prospect of playing in the Ashes.
“I’m very confident if I was called upon I could do a job,” he said. “I probably wouldn’t be here if other people didn’t think so either.”
Crane is aware he is likely to be attacked right from the very start by Australia’s batsmen, who will seize upon any weakness to try and undermine his confidence and hit him out of the attack.
“You’ve got to get used to it because that is the way Australians tend to play spin,” Crane said. “I know they are going to come after me so it is about holding my nerve and getting them out in the end.”
Crane’s route to Test cricket has been helped massively by an Australian in Stuart MacGill, who he spent much time working with during his time with Gordon and then New South Wales.
MacGill would surely have achieved far more in the game than 44 Test appearances and 208 wickets had his career not co-incided with Shane Warne’s.
Crane said: “He was brilliant as a mentor and a coach and he’s very passionate about bowling.
“He was a phenomenal bowler in his own right and very unlucky not to play more for Australia but he was brilliant guiding me. What we worked on was great for me.
“There were a couple of technical tweaks but it was a lot of mental stuff, which I probably needed to be honest. At my age that was excellent for me. As the winter progressed what I was doing with Stu started to click, I started to understand it.”
Crane’s first-class record for Hampshire during the last northern summer – 16 wickets at 44.69 - was not spectacular.
However, his grounding in Australian cricket and faith of his coach and captain means he should go into his Test debut as well prepared to succeed as anyone possibly could be.
ENGLAND XI: Alastair Cook, Mark Stoneman, James Vince, Joe Root (c), Dawid Malan, Jonny Bairstow (wk), Moeen Ali, Tom Curran, Stuart Broad, Mason Crane, James Anderson.
2017-18 International Fixtures
Magellan Ashes Series
Australia Test squad: Steve Smith (c), David Warner (vc), Cameron Bancroft, Usman Khawaja, Peter Handscomb, Shaun Marsh, Mitchell Marsh, Tim Paine (wk), Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood, Jackson Bird, Ashton Agar.
England Test squad: Joe Root (c), James Anderson (vc), Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, Jake Ball, Gary Ballance, Stuart Broad, Alastair Cook, Mason Crane, Tom Curran, Ben Foakes, Dawid Malan, Craig Overton, Ben Stokes, Mark Stoneman, James Vince, Chris Woakes.
First Test Australia won by 10 wickets. Scorecard
Second Test Australia won by 120 runs (Day-Night). Scorecard
Third Test Australia won by an innings and 41 runs. Scorecard
Fourth Test MCG, drawn. Scorecard
Fifth Test SCG, January 4-8 (Pink Test). Tickets
Gillette ODI Series v England
First ODI MCG, January 14. Tickets
Second ODI Gabba, January 19. Tickets
Third ODI SCG, January 21. Tickets
Fourth ODI Adelaide Oval, January 26. Tickets
Fifth ODI Perth Stadium, January 28. Tickets
Prime Minister's XI
PM's XI v England Manuka Oval, February 2. Tickets
Gillette T20 trans-Tasman Tri-Series
First T20I Australia v NZ, SCG, February 3. Tickets
Second T20I – Australia v England, Blundstone Arena, February 7. Tickets
Third T20I – Australia v England, MCG, February 10. Tickets
Fourth T20I – NZ v England, Wellington, February 14
Fifth T20I – NZ v Australia, Eden Park, February 16
Sixth T20I – NZ v England, Seddon Park, February 18
Final – TBC, Eden Park, February 21