FOUR years after being dropped by Sussex Under-14s, Mason Crane is returning to Hove with Hampshire’s first team.

The leg-spinner from Worthing was signed by Hampshire four years ago and is in the squad for tonight’s must-win match against his home county (7pm).

“It would be amazing to play at Sussex, especially in such an important match,” said Crane, who took 2-35 on debut against Surrey last week.

Crane, 18, has played at Hove before, in cup finals for Worthing CC junior teams, and also has fond memories of watching Sussex leg-spin legend Mushtaq Ahmed there.

“I used to watch Mushy bowl sides out for fun!” laughs Crane, who was inspired to take up the art by Hampshire legend Shane Warne.

“He’s the reason I started playing in the first place. No-one in my family played cricket but I loved watching him and the energy he brought on to the field during the 2005 Ashes.

“I tried to replicate that when I joined Worthing colts that summer. It all kicked on quickly from there.

“I played for Sussex U10s through to U13s but then didn’t make the county’s U14 squad.”

Fortunately, Crane was at Lancing College, where former Hampshire slow left-armer Raj Maru is the cricket master. He was soon recommended to Hampshire’s academy.

“The disappointment of not making that squad really spurred me on,” explains Crane. “It made me work really hard and Raj was excellent with me. We almost started all over again.

“I really wanted to make it and was more ready when I played for Hampshire Under-15s.”

Crane has developed further under the tutelage of Darren Flint, the Hampshire academy’s spin coach, and spending last winter with the England Development Programme in India and Australia.

“I’ve always tried to maintain high standards but that really helped my development,” he says. “[Former Hampshire leg-spinner] Imran Tahir also helped me a lot when I had a session with him last year.”

Crane’s late call-up meant his parents were “gutted” to miss his debut but friends made it to the Ageas Bowl in time to see him bowl and there is sure to be a sizeable contingent from Worthing CC at Hove tonight.

Crane took 5-41 against Sussex in the Second Eleven Championship ten days ago, but a lot is riding on this result.

Lose and Hampshire will have to win their last game at home to Somerset on Thursday – and hope other results go their way – to reach a seventh successive T20 quarter-final.

Hampshire (from): Carberry, Vince (c), Wheater, Adams, Shah, Gatting, Smith, Terry, Berg, Wood, Arafat, Crane, Briggs, Bird.