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Interviews

Mason Crane: 'I just want to play and feel like an integral part of a team'

England legspinner on hopes for Glamorgan loan and proving he is still a force in all formats

Alan Gardner
Alan Gardner
01-Apr-2024
Mason Crane won the Blast with Hampshire in 2022 but will play all formats for Glamorgan this summer  •  Alex Davidson/Getty Images

Mason Crane won the Blast with Hampshire in 2022 but will play all formats for Glamorgan this summer  •  Alex Davidson/Getty Images

It is just over two years since Mason Crane put Hampshire within touching distance of their first County Championship since 1973. "I had two balls to win the title," Crane says, reflecting on his dramatic five-wicket intervention against Lancashire at Aigburth in the final round of the 2021 season. "I bowled really well in that innings. But you know, obviously then things change and a new summer comes around and it's all part of playing in England really. There's always going to be things in the way of the spinner."
Had Crane managed to dismiss fellow leggie Matt Parkinson with one of those two deliveries, Hampshire would have pipped eventual champions Warwickshire by half a point. Instead, their wait goes on, while Crane has had to go back to biding his time, too - in the manner experienced by many a young English tweaker. Now in the final year of his contract, and after playing just five Championship games over the last two seasons (two of them for Sussex), he has agreed to spend the summer on loan at Glamorgan.
The move covers all formats, which seems significant given Crane has played a big part in Hampshire's white-ball success - helping them to the One-Day Cup in 2018 and another Blast title in 2022, as well as featuring in two more 50-over finals. But he kicked his heels through much of 2023, playing just six Blast games and once in the Hundred for London Spirit before returning to Hampshire for the Metro Bank Cup.
With Liam Dawson covering off Championship spin duties with aplomb - even while being disregarded by England - and contributing top-order runs into the bargain, Crane began to look at his options. "It just reached a point where it felt to me like I'm going to have to go elsewhere, at least temporarily, to try and get some cricket," he tells ESPNcricinfo.
"I've sat and watched a bit over the last couple of summers, as a team wins a tight game with a certain make-up of the XI, and then you stick with it. It's tough, to be right on the cusp of winning it all one minute and then yeah, in game time, only five games later to be not involved at all. But I'm used to it now as part of being a spinner in England. You've got to accept it.
"Obviously, it's always frustrating. I just really want to play cricket and I feel like I've made some strides in the last couple of years but haven't been able to show it whatsoever. So it's important I play, everyone is in agreement really. I'm obviously grateful Glamorgan have given me an opportunity to do that. I'm very excited actually that I don't have to turn up and constantly think about how I'm going to maybe get a game here and there, I can just settle in and play as much as I can."
In Cardiff, Crane will be reunited with his former Hampshire team-mate, Sam Northeast. The two had remained in contact and Northeast knew of Crane's desire for game time. After Glamorgan confirmed Grant Bradburn as the successor to Matt Maynard in the head coach role, wheels were set in motion to bring Crane along the M4. Northeast has subsequently been named red-ball captain and is confident that Glamorgan have signed a player who can make a significant impact in their bid for promotion from Division Two.
"We needed something a little bit different, a wicket-taker, and we think he's the man to do it," Northeast says. "A couple of times [last season] we had teams eight- or nine-down at the end and missed that magic touch really, that little X-factor. He's definitely someone who can provide that for us. We want him to settle in, not to put huge pressure on him. We want him to be part of the squad and I'm sure he'll play his part through the season.
For all that county cricket remains a tough nut for spinners to crack, Northeast believes that Cardiff is one of several venues on the circuit that increasingly requires "something different" for teams to force victory. He puts this down to the ECB's decision in 2019 to sanction the use of the heavy roller across all four innings, which has begun to negate the traditional impact of an all-seam attack.
"Day four in Cardiff can be one of the best days to bat," Northeast says. "There's a bit of grass and then four heavies and it flattens out, and you don't get the up-and-down nature that you did in the past. We felt that we definitely needed a real classy spinner and that's what Mason will bring."

****

It is now almost a decade since Crane emerged on the county scene as a precocious legspinning talent. Capped by England in T20Is at the age of 20, he made his sole Test appearance six months later in the 2017-18 Ashes before two back stress fractures derailed his progress. But having recently turned 27, and well knowing the received view on how long it takes spinners to mature - "If I had a pound every time someone came up to me and told me 'you'll only peak when you get to 30'… I've heard it a million times" - his focus for now is on playing consistently and feeling good about his game.
"I'm obviously really proud that I've played for England but overall not satisfied," he says. "I was such a young guy, and it all happened so quickly. An injury struck right when I didn't really need it to, just slightly got my foot in the door. It took me a lot longer than people give credit for really to get back anywhere near where I want to be.
"In terms of ambitions going forward, I don't really know to be honest. All I know is that I'd just like to play some games and feel like a real, integral part of a team. I'll always believe that on my day, I'm as good as anyone. The problem is, I've got to make it my day much more often. And I know that. But hopefully just play some games [with Glamorgan] and see where it takes me."
Crane's Test debut was notoriously grueling, sending down 48 overs at the SCG for figures of 1 for 193. His most-recent England involvement was as a Covid reserve on the 2020-21 tour of India - where he and Dom Bess founded an informal spin-bowling support network, alongside Matt and Callum Parkinson, that still exists as a WhatsApp group today. Did Crane watch the success enjoyed by Tom Hartley and Shoaib Bashir in India recently and wish he had played in an environment more supportive of his craft?
"To be honest, as such a young guy back then, I don't think I knew what I needed. That's all part of getting older and gaining experience, you learn more what's best for you. Back then I was probably in a phase where I was still giving things a try and working out different ways of going about it. I wouldn't ever turn around and say I was completely thrown under the bus, because I wasn't. But I think now I'd be able to go into a dressing room and meet a new captain and say, oh, this is this is what generally works for me best and this is a bit of a preference of mine and things like that."
Another crack at Test cricket may seem a long way off, particularly when set against the attraction of winning contracts on the T20 franchise circuit - as well as his success for Hampshire, Crane has performed creditably in the Hundred and in 2023 featured in the first edition of the SA20 - but he has given no thought to specialising in limited-overs cricket.
"Even going back to when I was really young, I've always seen myself as a red-ball bowler first," he says. "I've always had the ability to get people out. That's never really been a question and that's always what I've enjoyed doing most, trying to actually get someone out and men around the bat on the last day. That's always been one of the best things I've enjoyed in the game. But ultimately, you're going to practice more what you're going to be deployed for in games and for a long time, and for most legspinners around the world, that's going to be training for white-ball cricket.
"A few years ago, I'd have been really against moving but I've reached a point where if I need to move, I need to move. I just can't wait around and keep doing what I've done last two years. It just can't go on"
Mason Crane on leaving Hampshire
"I've certainly looked at the last couple of years where we've been going through the first few weeks of the season and then the T20s are only two weeks away. You're clearly not getting a game in the four-dayers so you might as well start working on the stuff that you're actually going to use in a proper game. Before you know it, you spend most of the year just bowling with a white ball. So I have sympathy with everyone that ends up being a white-ball cricketer, but it's certainly not my ambition to drop the format, because I love bowling in red-ball cricket and I've always seen myself that way.
"There are a lot of spinners out there that are white-ball based. You can see the way they bowl is all about T20 bowling, and that's fine. But looking at my style of bowling, it's centred around red-ball cricket and then I transfer it into white-ball. It just happens I get picked more in white-ball."

****

The experiences of Hartley and, in particular, Bashir - who had only played six first-class games for Somerset before being called up by England - offer a novel form of encouragement to Crane, Bess and their brethren. "You could be in the second team for half a year, play half the games [in the Championship] and then still find yourself playing for England," Crane says. "That's not a ridiculous thing to say nowadays."
Crane has not had any contact with the selectors since going on an England Lions tour of Sri Lanka in early 2023, and is under no illusions about his place in the pecking order. An England return would be "amazing" but that is only likely to come from hard yards on the county grind. "I'm very confident in my ability and I think on my day I'm as good as anyone. It's up to me to make it my day much more often. What will happen after that will happen."
Increasingly, it seems, a move away from Hampshire might offer the best chance of a route back - as difficult as that is to contemplate for a player who became the youngest man to take a Championship five-for for the club, in only his second appearance back in 2015.
"As a homegrown player, it's sometimes … maybe slightly easier to leave [you] out than someone who has been brought in for a purpose. I've certainly felt that before, and I've seen it all over the place where if someone moves somewhere, the guys higher up want to see what they can do. I think a few years ago, I'd have been really against moving but I've reached a point where if I need to move, I need to move. I just can't wait around and keep doing what I've done last two years. It just can't go on."

Alan Gardner is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick

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