THERE were few people prouder than Mason Crane’s coaches when the 18 year-old made his dramatic entry to Hampshire’s first team.

Crane’s call-up was too short notice for former Hampshire slow left-armers Raj Maru and Darren Flint to see the leg-spinner dismiss Kumar Sangakkara and Vikram Solanki in taking 2-35 during last week’s T20 Blast win against Surrey at The Ageas Bowl.

But they were not surprised to hear that Crane’s debut was, whisper it, the sort that could have been penned by Shane Warne’s scriptwriter.

The dismissal of Sangakkara was more rank full toss than Ball of the Century but taking wickets with bad balls was also a knack shared by the Hampshire and Australia legend.

Solanki’s exit, stumped by Adam Wheater, was a more orthodox dismissal for Crane.

For Flint, the baton had been taken. His mind was cast back to June 1995 and the last of his 34 first-class wickets for Hampshire: Solanki, ct Streak by Flint 35.

After nearly 20 years out of the game, he returned to work for the Hampshire academy when the Brian Johnston Memorial Trust and the ECB set up the Elite Spin Programme in 2011. Hampshire are already reaping the dividends.

Two years ago, off-spinner Brad Taylor became the county’s youngest debutant since 1867 and Crane has been one to watch since first arriving at Hampshire four years ago.

“Spinners used to take longer to mature, but we now have the contact time to bring kids on faster,” explains Flint.

“A lot have been lost to the game early because clubs don’t have the patience needed for them to come through. So the idea is to get good coaching into them early.”

As an eight-year-old only child glued to the 2005 Ashes series, Shoreham-born Crane was inspired by Warne’s mesmerising performances that summer.

He has been hooked on leg-spin ever since.

After joining Worthing CC’s colts set-up a decade ago, he was soon playing for Sussex Under-10s and was a regular at county age-group level for four seasons.

When he was left out of the Sussex Under-14 squad, he was heartbroken, believing the opportunity to do what Mushtaq Ahmed did for the county was gone. But the chance to move to Hampshire arose through Maru, his cricket master at Lancing College.

“I could see he had something special when I first saw him as a 13 year-old,” says Maru. “He told me he used to play for Sussex but that they didn’t want him any more.

“They said he couldn’t field or bat but we realised we could develop that. So we wrote to Sussex and they gave permission for Mason to go to Hampshire.

“A lot of academies seem to label players early on but people develop at different rates, especially leg-spinners.

“We push them too early. They can lose confidence and get left behind, which is why it’s important they have the same coach all the way through their development.”

Maru ensures that continuity by overseeing Crane’s progress with the help of Flint, who lives in Hedge End, while Hampshire academy director Bobby Parks concentrates on his fielding and batting skills.

“I collaborated with Raj and did a lot of technical work with Mason early on,” says Flint, whose full-time job has been with Flint & Flint, the family’s flooring company, since leaving Hampshire.

“Mason came to us with two deliveries, his leg-break and a good googly, so it was just a case of working hard on developing and disguising more variations.

“He’s matured and is in the process of developing a really good slider.”

No doubt there will soon be comparisons with the man who introduced the ‘slider’ to cricket’s lexicon, due to the high number of revolutions that Crane imparts on his leg-break.

He is yet to meet former Hampshire captain Warne, but he did benefit from an hour-long tutorial with Imran Tahir last September.

“That was a real masterclass,” says Maru, who is wary of comparisons with the genius who inspired his protege. “Warne was very different to any leg-spinner in that he had very strong arms wrists and fingers.

“It meant he could walk up to the wicket, but most spinners need the momentum they get from a run-up.

“Although he gets good revs, Mason also knows that it is not the spin that gets wickets, but creating confusion in the batsman’s mind.”

After wintering on the England Development Programme, Mason impressed while playing his first three games for England U19s in Australia in April .

His progress of late has been difficult to ignore, his first-team call-up coming on the back of his 5-41 against Sussex in the Second Eleven Championship ten days ago.

“The biggest compliment I hear is when people say they’re ready made for second team cricket at 16,” says Flint.

“A lot goes into what we do. It’s almost like a finishing school before they go to first team or second team cricket.”

Constructing dismissals is a skill the aptly named Mason Crane has developed. “It was relatively easy for Mason and Brad to get wickets for their school and even at county age-group level, but they have had to learn how to get good batters out on good wickets,” continues Flint.

“It’s harder and it takes longer and they’re discovering that it almost takes a sixth sense to decipher a batsmen’s movements.”

Crane and Taylor could soon become a first-team double act. But Liam Dawson’s loan move to Essex is a reminder that there is only room for so many spinners in an XI.

“It’s going to be interesting to see what transpires,” said Flint whose main bugbear is an LV County Championship schedule that is hardly conducive to the development of spinners.

“I’m one of ten coaches in the Elite Spin Programme led by Peter Such and we do try to put our case forward.

“But ten of Hampshire’s 16 Championship games have already been played and we’re only just coming into the time of year when conditions are at their most favourable for spinners.”

Flint is also excited by his younger crop, notably the Organ brothers, Felix and Zac. He is also helping to develop England U19 captain Joe Weatherley’s off-spin.

But Maru believes Crane’s time is now and that he should already be in Hampshire’s Championship side.

“He’s exactly what Hampshire need, I’m surprised he didn’t play againstWorcestershire at New Road two weeks ago,” he said.

“It was always going to spin there for [Saeed] Ajmal and [Brett] D’Oliveira. Mason could be doing what Rashid does for Yorkshire.

“His confidence is high. He might go for a few runs but he has five or six variations and he takes wickets.”

First published in the Sports Pink