Joe Root backs Mason Crane to surprise Australia on Test debut amid Chris Woakes injury fears

tom collomosse
Deep end: Crane will make his Test debut in Sydney: Getty Images

Joe Root backed Mason Crane to surprise Australia on his Test debut as he sought to play down fears about Chris Woakes’ long-term fitness.

Leg-spinner Crane will replace Woakes for the final Ashes Test here after the seamer was withdrawn from the team following a scan on his left side – the same area that caused him to miss the majority of last summer after he injured it on June 1.

This is England’s chance to end the Ashes on a high by securing their first Test win of the winter and ensuring the series ends only 3-1 to Australia, but that task will be more difficult without Woakes, who has played 22 Tests and is a useful contributor with the bat as well as the ball.

Woakes sustained the original damage in England’s Champions Trophy opener against Bangladesh at The Kia Oval, and did not play for his country again until the Test match against West Indies at Headingley, which started on August 25.

Side injuries are extremely troublesome for fast bowlers and recovery times are uncertain. Were Woakes to be absent for a similar period on this occasion, he would miss the one-day series against Australia and the Twenty20 tri-series against Australia and New Zealand.

The 28-year-old would also struggle to feature on the subsequent tour of New Zealand, comprising five one-day internationals and two Tests. England hope, therefore, that the damage will be less severe this time around.

His absence at Sydney leaves England with only two proven seamers – Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad – in their attack. England have retained the struggling Moeen Ali to partner Crane as they believe the pitch will turn, but Australia captain Steve Smith intends to stick with four pace bowlers and a single spinner at his home ground.

Root is clearly worried about Woakes but said it now fell to the one-day captain, Eoin Morgan, to decide on his fitness, along with the England medical team and the player himself. Root said: “It is about making sure Chris is not out for a significant period of time.

“He pulled up a bit sore after the last Test at Melbourne. The side is an important area for a fast bowler so we have to look after it and make sure he is 100 per cent ready to go.

“He is an integral part of the white-ball teams and the Test team and it is important that he does not have another setback like last summer, so he will miss this match and it gives him another week to get himself right.

“Whether he plays in the one-day series is for Eoin and the medical team to assess. I hope he can and that he’s ready to go for the first game (at Melbourne on January 14).”

Woakes is facing a lengthy spell on the sidelines (REUTERS)

Broad and Anderson should brace themselves for an increased workload. Crane is a debutant, seamer Tom Curran made his first Test appearance at Melbourne, and Moeen is in desperately poor form with the ball, having taken only three wickets in the series at 135 apiece.

Between them, England’s new-ball pair bowled 354 overs in the first four Tests, with Broad recovering his best form only at the MCG last week. They have plenty of miles on the clock, with Anderson 35 and Broad 31, but Root insists both men are happy to bowl extra overs here if required, especially as neither is involved in white-ball cricket these days.

“With this being the last game of their tours, there is no reason why they can’t leave everything on the field,” said Root. “They’ve played a number of five-match series before and they know what it is like.

“I’ve had a chat with the senior guys and they are aware that the number of overs they bowl might go up slightly if things aren’t going our way, but they are both up for the challenge and they are ready to go.”

Australia appear likely to recall Mitchell Starc after the left-arm quick, the leading wicket-taker in the series, declared himself fit for action despite missing Melbourne with a bruised heel.

“The break he had helped his heel heal,” said Smith, who is guaranteed to end the series with a batting average of more than 100. “You have to take a player’s word sometimes. If he gets his chance, we hope he gets through and that he is fine afterwards.”