England appear set to hand a Test debut to novice leg-spinner Mason Crane in Sydney.
Coach Trevor Bayliss has given the strongest hint yet that the 20-year-old will win his maiden cap in the Ashes finale, with England able to “look at some different people” as they try to break their duck in a series lost in Perth before Christmas.
Since then, England have recorded a more encouraging draw in Melbourne to at least ensure they will not suffer a third 5-0 whitewash in four tours to Australia.
Crane’s graduation is not entirely contingent on England dropping badly out-of-form Moeen Ali, but that seems the most likely scenario.
Either way, if the leg-spinner does begin his Test career at the SCG on Thursday, he will be doing so on the same ground where his grade cricket tour Down Under last winter culminated in an unexpected Sheffield Shield call-up for New South Wales.
Asked if Crane is ready for Tests, Bayliss said: “There’s maybe no time like the present to find out.
“We think he’s a guy that has got the goods, and the more he plays at this level the better he will get. You’ve got to start somewhere.”
As for Moeen’s future, the short and long term may well be divergent.
After the off-spinning all-rounder’s three wickets at an alarming cost of 135 each in four Tests so far, and only 136 runs at under 20 an innings, it is hard to have much current confidence.
He is a famously mercurial talent, however – a fact not lost on Bayliss.
“At the moment, the number of runs and wickets makes it one of his lows,” said the coach.
“But just a couple of months ago, we were singing his praises as one of the best all-rounders in the world.”
The contrasting fortunes of opposite number Nathan Lyon, who has 17 wickets and has dismissed Moeen every time he has bowled at him in this series, appears damning.
But Bayliss added: “He’s different to Lyon, who gets over-spin.
“Mo doesn’t, and things don’t happen as quickly without the bounce that Lyon gets.
“Mo is a free spirit, and one or two shots or wickets and he will be off and running. So I’m not concerned long term.”
England may yet pick both their spinners.
Former NSW batsman Bayliss is well aware, though, that conditions have changed in what was once his own backyard.
“We’ll need to have a bit of a chat about it,” he said.
“Normally it’s been the case in the past you can easily play two spinners, but looking at the wicket on TV, it looked like it had a decent covering of grass.
“I think it will still spin towards the end of the game, it’s still the same soil.
“There’s been no decision right now. With the series lost, it gives us an opportunity to look at some different people.”
Two men sure to be in action are Alastair Cook and Stuart Broad, after their much-improved performances at the MCG.
Cook carried his bat for an unbeaten double-century, and Broad took four first-innings wickets.
Asked if either had been in danger of being dropped because of their meagre contributions in the first three Tests, Bayliss is vehement.
“If you’d listened to anyone outside of the team, they were fairly close,” he said. “But they weren’t close at all.
“We understand how good they are. You can’t write off a champion, and they both proved that in the last game.”
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