Warne picks bolter in England XI

The King of Spin has his say on England's first Test team to face the Proteas

Legend Shane Warne has donned his selector’s cap and awarded a debut to leg-spinner Mason Crane in England’s XI for the first Test against South Africa next week.

Crane made his T20 International debut against the Proteas this month, impressing rival skipper AB de Villiers, and is Warne’s bolter for the opening match of the English Test summer at Lord’s on Thursday.

Crane, 20, has played just 22 first-class matches and this season has captured 11 wickets at 27.27 in three games for Hampshire. 

Incumbent Test leg-spinner Adil Rashid, who has taken 30 wickets in England’s past seven Tests, didn’t make the cut, with off-spinning allrounder Moeen Ali the second slow-bowling option in the side while batting at No.6.

In Warne’s XI, ex-captain Alastair Cook is partnered by Durham’s Keaton Jennings at the top of the order, the same first-wicket partnership that finished the Test tour of India late last year after Haseeb Hameed broke his hand in Mohali. 

Prior to the English summer, a fully-fit Hameed was tipped to reclaim his place as Cook’s comrade but a shocking run of poor form, that has seen the 20-year-old not reach 50 in 15 first-class innings this season, has seen him likely slip down the pecking order. 

"When you saw Hammed in India he looked a Test cricketer," former England captain Nasser Hussain said on Sky Sports’ cricket podcast. 

"Even in an injured situation – that last game when he played with a busted hand he went out and smashed it, he looked very composed, he looked a perfect right-hand, left-hand combination with Cook. 

"But he’s literally not got a run this season. It’s been a massive drop off."

Warne also handed a return to Yorkshire’s run machine Gary Ballance.

The left-hander has endured a rollercoaster Test career to date, but it seems 815 first-class runs at 101.87 this season is enough to warrant a recall to the five-day outfit. 

England coach Trevor Bayliss, who admitted the upcoming selection meeting would be the toughest of his two-year tenure, also kept the door ajar for Ballance’s return.

"The one thing that Gary has always had in his favour is that he is mentally tough," Bayliss said on Thursday. 

"That's the reason why he is able to come back from being dropped a couple of times and why he's been able to score a lot of runs for Yorkshire this year.

"There's no reason why someone like that can't come back and a make a success of international cricket."

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The other interesting decision by Warne is to put Jonny Bairstow at first-drop and demote new Test skipper Joe Root to No.4. 

At the behest of Bayliss, Root has occupied the No.3 positon for the past 12 months but perhaps the King of Spin is on to something.

In 29 innings at No.3, Root averages 45.33 with two centuries compared to an average of 50.36 in 21 innings one spot lower in order. 

The right-hander’s best position, statistically, is No.5, where he has posted six of his 11 Test hundreds and averages 73.12.

In Warne’s side, Bairstow will undergo two changes. First, he finds himself in a new place in the batting order and secondly, he will no longer be the designated wicketkeeper, with Jos Buttler set to bat at No.7 and take the gloves. 

Buttler played the final three Tests of the India tour but as a specialist batsman, but Warne has the 26-year-old standing behind the stumps.

Finally, the seam bowling attack will feature England’s most prolific new-ball pair in James Anderson and Stuart Broad, with Durham duo Mark Wood and Ben Stokes, who is also batting at No.5, to provide support. 

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