Temperament Crane Is Taking Small Steps On The Return-Path > Cricket News, cricinfo, mobilecric, cricbuzz, livescore and more

Cricket news - Spirited Crane takes small steps on comeback road

"I'm just grateful to be fit. I'm going to try and perform as well as I can when called upon and let's see where it takes me" - Crane

It's an indelible image. It's July 2017 and Mason Crane, in the red of England's T20 team, is running around madly, arms outstretched, screaming at the top of his lungs after dismissing South Africa's AB de Villiers in Cardiff.

The joy, the passion, the sense that Crane had no idea what to do after removing one of the best players to have ever played the game were all palpable. That it came after de Villiers had pumped the leg-spinner's first three balls of the over for four, six, six made it all the more special. It was Crane's second match for England but his first international wicket. There are worse ones to get.

The most impressive aspect of that over in Cardiff was not the dismissal - the batsman holed out on the deep square leg boundary - but in the way Crane held his nerve. Facing down de Villiers in such a mood is not for the faint-hearted. It would have been easy for a young spinner just making his way in the game to take cover, dart the ball in, in the hope of avoiding more damage. But that wasn't for Crane. Instead, he kept tossing them up.

It was high risk. But he was rewarded with a match-turning moment. England won that match by 19 runs. If de Villers had stuck around, South Africa would have cantered to victory.

That over suggested Crane had the temperament for the top level. After the match, de Villiers said he was impressed at how the novice had handled the situation and for a young leg-spinner, trying to master the hardest art in the game, keeping a level head is half the battle. It's something Crane has become renowned for.

The 22 year-old was selected for England that summer following a remarkable off-season which began with him playing club cricket for Gordon CC in Sydney's grade competition, and ended with him being selected for New South Wales in the Sheffield Shield - the first overseas player to do so since Imran Khan in 1984/85.

It was Roy of the Rovers stuff. An unheralded Pom who had hardly played any county cricket suddenly found himself playing at the SCG wearing the Baggy Blue. Twelve months later, Crane was making his Test debut for England at the same ground.

It was a rapid rise but one that was followed by a sudden thud. Crane suffered a stress fracture of the lower back in the early stages of the tour to New Zealand which followed England's 4-0 Ashes defeat. He recovered but then suffered a recurrence of the same injury during the county season that followed. His last game was Hampshire's Royal London One Day Cup win at Lord's in June. He hasn't played since.

"When you put it like that, it was a really tough year," Crane tells Cricbuzz. "Now I've come through the other side, I can see how it can be a positive for me for the future. If I can overcome all of that stuff, there's not too much more that can be thrown at me. I've experienced as hard as it will probably get and probably as low as I will get at the same time."

Crane took 1-53 in the victory over Kent in the final at Lord's in the knowledge that his season was over. He had had pain in the weeks leading up to the match and knew it was his last game of the year. "I was facing six months out whether I played in that game or not so I had an injection to get myself through it," he says.

"But it was completely worth it. To play in a Lord's final and win my first trophy with Hampshire and all the guys, a lot of whom I've grown up with, it was an amazing day. I've definitely got no regrets about ploughing on through that final. Something this injury has taught me is that I'll be grateful for any day of cricket I can play because you never know when it can be taken away from you."

The time since that final has dragged on. There are two ways to treat a stress fracture of the back: rest or an operation to pin the bone together. Both can be successful and Crane opted for the former, resting his back to allow it to heal naturally. After Christmas, he started bowling again, slowly upping the intensity, conscious not to rush things. "You have to stress it in the right way and it'll hopefully come back stronger," he says. "I think it has."

The injuries have been all the more galling given he was on a high after making his Test debut in the final Test of that Ashes tour. It was a bit of a hospital pass if truth be told. The series had already gone without many discernible positives for the tourists and Australia were keen to rub England's noses in it. It wasn't necessarily the best time for Crane to become the youngest specialist spinner to play for England for 90 years.

And on the face of it, his figures of 1 for 193 as Australia racked up 649 in their first dig suggest a torrid outing. But he bowled better than those numbers, and a certain Shane Warne was impressed with his action and attitude. "It was tough," Crane says. "They got a lot of runs in that game. I could have bowled better, I could have bowled worse. It definitely wasn't as bad as the numbers suggest. I'm not really a big numbers man anyway. When you're playing games like that, your whole game is under a microscope. There was the realisation that most of the game at that level is pretty much mental. All the stuff that goes with it. I felt I coped quite well. It has given me the confidence that I feel I can play at that level if I get called up again."

If there was one thing that was obvious during that game at the SCG, it was that Crane is clearly still developing. He's not the finished article - who is at his age? - and if it is true that there is work to be done, it's also true that the talent is obvious. He has spent the winter making some minor tweaks to his action in order to get more consistent and add some more variety to his bowling.

Getting in Hampshire's side is Crane's first task this term given the strength in depth the county have. Promising batsman Aneurin Donald has arrived from Glamorgan along with fast bowler Keith Barker from Warwickshire, adding to an impressive looking squad which will be captained by James Vince.

Hampshire's success in the 50-over tournament last year was the first trophy for this group of players and they say the first is the hardest. Now they've tasted success, more could well follow. They will be strong contenders for both white-ball competitions again this season and an improvement on last year's fifth-placed finish in the Championship is within reach too.

Crane will play his part across all formats although with the all-rounder Liam Dawson offering a spin option, Crane could find it difficult to get into the final eleven at the start of the season, with conditions unlikely to necessitate two spinners. With that uncertainty surrounding his place in the side, Crane's ambitions for this season are measured.

"I'll just be happy to be in the team to be honest," he says. "You want to be playing, you want to be bowling well and taking wickets, of course you do, but you've got to be realistic at the same time. I'm not going to win every single game because I bowl leg-spin in England. I'm very realistic. I understand what's going to be required of me when I do play."

As a result, Crane has put returning to the international set-up to the back of his mind. "I don't think I'm in a position where I am looking to play for England again," he says. "I'm just grateful to be fit. I'm going to try and perform as well as I can when called upon and let's see where it takes me. That's exactly what happened last time and I ended up in an England shirt.

"It's probably as excited as I have ever been [ahead of the season] because I understand what it's like not to play now. When you're young and you've never really had an injury before, it's hard to see the flip side of that. There's nothing worse than sitting on the sidelines. You just want to play."

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