England may have named an unchanged squad for what is now a series decider against West Indies at Lord’s next week but they are still keen to explore the possibility of handing leg-spinner Mason Crane a Test debut in that match ahead of this winter’s Ashes.
Had Joe Root’s team followed up their innings victory in the first Test at Edgbaston with another in the second at Headingley then Crane, 20, would have been a certainty to have been given his first Test cap at Lord’s.
Instead, England slipped to their first home Test defeat against West Indies in 17 years during a thrilling five-day contest in Leeds that confounded the form book and history to ensure the final match of the series will now have everything riding on it.
That will raise the stakes for Essex batsman Tom Westley, who will get one more chance to stake his claim for an Ashes berth after he retained his place despite a run of four successive single-figure scores at No3.
However, England are still keen to give Crane a chance in the final Test before this winter’s series in Australia, where coach Trevor Bayliss believes the youngster could prove a potent attacking option.
Crane impressed during his international T20 debut in Cardiff back in June, where he kept his composure amidst a brutal onslaught from AB De Villiers and ended up taking the South African’s wicket.
Asked whether he wanted to play the Hampshire spinner in the final Test, Bayliss admitted: “It will be a temptation, definitely. We’ll have to wait until we get to Lord’s to have a look at the wicket. That brings in other decisions then, who might miss out? But, to be honest, we’ll have to wait and see what the wicket looks like.”
Crane took a stunning catch in the fifth Test when on as a substitute fielder (Getty)
Bayliss knows fitting Crane into his XI for Lord’s without disrupting the balance of the team will be a challenge.
After choosing to stick with the same 13-man squad named for the Headingley Test, England’s options are limited.
Bar promoting Root to No3 to replace Westley, thereby allowing everyone else in the order to move up one place, it seems the most likely way to get Crane into the side would be to rest an all-rounder in either Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali or Chris Woakes.
Leaving out Moeen, who took 10 wickets in his last Test appearance at Lord’s against South Africa earlier this summer, appears a long shot.
The same applies to Stokes, who scored a century in Leeds and whose presence at No6 is crucial given England’s current top-order frailties.
Tom Westley’s place could be under threat (Getty)
Woakes would appear the most vulnerable and, with Toby Roland-Jones also waiting in the wings, it seems certain he will be dropped for Lord’s even if Crane is made to wait for his chance.
Another option would be to drop Dawid Malan. The Middlesex batsman now has two half-centuries in four Tests and even though his tortuous innings of 61 at Headingley, spanning 186 balls, was far from convincing it did at least draw faint praise from Bayliss.
Despite Westley’s woes at No3, the Australian drew comfort from the fact that both Malan and opener Mark Stoneman, who made a second-innings 52 in his second Test appearance, showed signs of progress.
“I suppose more than anything, they started to look comfortable at the crease, if that’s possible in a Test match,” said Bayliss. “Certainly, Mark looks like a tough type of player to me. He looks like he’s ready for a scrap the whole time but, when the bad ball comes along, he is able to put it away.
“Dawid has a couple of 60s now. He looked a bit nervous in that first one but, as I said, he was starting to look more comfortable in this Test match.”
So, are both batsmen ready for the Ashes? “We hope so,” said Bayliss. “This last Test match will be another opportunity for them to really nail it down. They have started to look comfortable and they can both play off the back foot so the signs are looking good. But, as you know, we’ve said that before and we’ve had a change after a few more matches. I still have fingers crossed for them.”
As for the state of mind of England’s players after they allowed West Indies to chase down 322 to win the second Test, Bayliss added: “They were hurting and to me that’s a good thing. If the team is hurting after a loss, it means something to them. I’m sure they will be fully focused and ready to put things right in the next Test.”