Andy Flower, the England Lions coach, has called for greater patience regarding Mason Crane’s development as a leg-spinner and tipped Jack Leach to make an impact when the Test side tour Sri Lanka in November.
England’s second string are 2-0 down in their three-match unofficial Test series against West Indies A following heavy defeats in what Flower describes as “subcontinental” conditions, with spin having accounted for 55 of the 66 wickets to fall across both sides.
That Hampshire’s Crane has taken only one and bowled 26.4 overs – compared with 88.4 from Leach and 49 overs of off-break from the batsman Liam Livingstone – could set alarm bells ringing after a chastening Ashes debut in Sydney last month and his subsequent retention for the Test tour to New Zealand.
Flower, who puts the greater use of Livingstone down to the number of left-handers in the West Indies side, insists some perspective is required despite Crane’s rapid elevation to the senior side this winter.
“People should be patient with his development and he should find a balance of pushing himself with high expectations and standards, but also understanding that he is a 21-year-old leg-spinner,” Flower said.
“Just because he’s been picked for the New Zealand series doesn’t necessarily mean he will pull up trees. He’s a confident young guy and I like that he’s combative. But he also knows he has got a lot of learning to do, and overs to get under his belt, to come anywhere near to mastering his very difficult art.”
Crane has now left the Lions tour before Monday’s day-night series finale in Antigua – this was always the plan – and though his talent is obvious, his recent struggles are why Adil Rashid’s decision to become a white-ball specialist have been viewed as premature in some quarters.
Though Rashid’s 10 Tests brought 38 wickets at 42 runs apiece, the Yorkshireman could still have challenged the younger man for a spot on next winter’s tours to Sri Lanka and the spin-friendly Caribbean.
The selectors will surely now look to Leach, who has followed two bumper county seasons for Somerset on the turning track at Taunton with 14 wickets in the two Lions four-day games so far. His eight for 110 in the first match at Trelawny broke Graeme Swann’s record match figures for an England spinner at A level.
Flower said: “Selection is not down to me but on pitches that turn he has shown himself to be very effective and has been the dominant bowler for us. In Sri Lankan conditions and with continued development, there is no reason why he can’t make an impact.”
The plight of the Lions makes it a poor red-ball winter for England overall, prompting criticism from Michael Vaughan following Tuesday’s innings defeat in Kingston. Flower is happy that expectations are high, despite the Lions squad being primarily about development and some frustration is evident in his appraisal of a batting lineup who include the former Test players Keaton Jennings, Haseeb Hameed and Livingstone.
He added: “Most reasonable people understand results are not always connected to resources, otherwise India would win every series they play. A big part of the Lions is to give players opportunities to grow and learn. We have lost on big turning pitches and batsmen haven’t coped. So that tells us where they are and informs how we work with them.
“Our top score in four innings is 60 from Paul Coughlin at No 7 and that is not OK. So I am not going to talk about who has been impressive, as no one has been. There have been snippets of class but nothing substantial, nothing to match what West Indies have done. People underestimate them and denigrate them but they are proud performers and have a lot of talent.”