Four years ago, amid the ruins of a failed Ashes campaign, England turned to a young leg-spinner, Scott Borthwick, as they hunted a consolation win. This time, it’s Mason Crane’s turn.
Borthwick has not been seen in the Three Lions since. Nowadays he is a batsman who bowls some leggies though unfortunately for England his transformation has not been as successful as Steve Smith’s.
But before any hasty conclusions are reached with Crane it’s worth noting the differences now to 2014. Borthwick was the perfect case in point of a man being at the right place at the right time.
The then 23-year-old was not in England’s squad. He had been playing grade cricket in Sydney and was about to fly home to prepare for a tour with England’s second team before being rushed in after Graeme Swann’s shock retirement before the Boxing Day Test. A week later he made his debut after back-up spinner Monty Panesar tweaked a calf at training.
Crane, however, has long been part of England’s plans. Although the 20-year-old was part of their Twenty20 side during the summer, his rise has been rapid given he does not command a regular first-team berth with his county Hampshire.
There are big wraps on Crane, particularly from his mentor and leg-spin great Stuart MacGill, who believes he has the resilience to debut at such a tender age.
Like Borthwick, Crane has also plied his trade in Sydney’s grade circuit but with much more success. So prolific was he with the ball, it prompted NSW to pick a foreigner in its Sheffield Shield team.
Crane bagged five wickets at the SCG, impressing many in the Blues set-up. He has left a similar impression with England’s brains trust.
“The way he has conducted himself for the whole trip has been outstanding,” England captain Joe Root said. “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 and on this surface he is going to be a really good option.”
While ‘s selectors saw enough grass to stick with three quicks, the visitors have adopted the mantra of spin to win.
Even before the injury to seamer Chris Woakes, they were leaning towards picking two spinners despite much speculation surrounding Moeen Ali’s place in the side.
Ali reached a nadir in Melbourne where he resembled a man bereft of confidence with his brazen batting and ineffectual bowling.
“Moeen is a fine player and I have said that about a few players on this trip. You look at the way he has played over the last couple of years,” Root said.
“Of course, he has had a tough couple of games but you don’t just lose the ability he has overnight and I am fully confident on this surface and throughout this week he can put in some valuable performances for the side.
“My message to him has been to relax and try and enjoy his cricket. He is at his best when he is having fun.”