This first post-lockdown cricket series lived up to all the hype from those who missed the sport dearly with things all tied up between England and West Indies with the third Test currently underway. Amidst all the fast bowlers getting us excited, a certain off-spinner caught all attention. Dom Bess had just played four Tests coming into the series, but there was promise, and his match-winning spell in Port Elizabeth early this year is the best evidence. What stood out, though, was his similarity with Graeme Swann’s bowling action, mainly from around the wicket.
It is not as if Bess’ action is uncanny to England’s best spinner, but just at a glance, there is a resemblance that just pops out. If that seems surprising, from over the wicket the bowling action sees some resemblance to Nathan Lyon’s!
Bess’ Best So Far
Since his Test debut, the Somerset player hadn’t provided a performance of note for his country. But that would change during England’s 2019/2020 tour of South Africa, specifically in the third Test at Port Elizabeth. With the batsmen racking up almost 500 runs in the first dig, Dom Bess ran through the South African top order, dismissing all specialist batsmen including Faf du Plessis and Rassie van der Dussen. He had single-handedly reduced SA to 109 for 5, squashing any chances of them getting close to England’s total.
No, Root getting four wickets in the second innings doesn’t devalue the young spinner’s huge effort. Bess tied things up in the second dig with 22 overs for 36 runs, also dismissing the stubborn Anrich Nortje to finish it off, with the Proteas just 53 runs behind and Dane Paterson going nicely at the other end. They could have possibly made England bat again, gaining a chance to draw the game, without the supporting effort of Bess.
Bounce seemed to be his asset in the first innings spell there, and there’s no doubt it’s a quality that will help him as his career progresses. But there’s room for improvement to make that progress quicker. Here’s where the action comparison with Graeme Swann comes in, we’ll try and find some things out.
The Offspinner’s Dream
YEEEEESSSSS @DomBess99!! 🦁
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) July 20, 2020
Dom Bess almost replicated Graeme Swann’s delivery to Ponting in 2009 when he castled Jason Holder, ball pitching outside off and through the gate beating him on the front foot in the fifth day of the second Test in Windies’ current England tour. Both beautiful examples of the off-spinners’ dream delivery.
But if you watch both closely, you will notice that the ball drifted in and dipped quite a bit more to pitch right on the rough in Swann’s case. The ball was a bit fuller as well, and it takes that much deception to beat a batsman the quality of Ponting.
But hold on, this is not undermining Bess’ ball. It is just that he has so much potential that he can be a force with the ball, with such deception worked into his game. So why does one bowler here generate more drift and dip than the other? Simply put it is due to the not-so-secret sauce used in the delicious dish of spin – the number of revs imparted onto the ball.
Chef Swann sprinkles this sauce a bit more and produces a tastier result. Now Bess can’t do the same exact thing because he’s not totally similar to Swann, and uses the other ingredients for the spin-dish in different ratios. Oh, that wasn’t simply put at all! It might be all the unresolved food cravings in these times of COVID19.
Anyway, here the chef is the spin bowler and some of the main ingredients in question are the body positions and angles. From these screengrabs above there are some little too distinct differences although the release height is similar. One, Swann plays with the angles and delivers from a wider release point than Dom Bess.
Two, while both players lean a lot towards the left above their hips, the 23-year-old arches his back and twists mildly while the former England spinner simply slants it.
Three, the youngster’s head falls over to the left while Graeme Swann maintains his head straight.
To elaborate, imagine drawing a line from the upper back to the head on these screengrabs of the bowlers… you’ll notice that it is quite straightforward for the latter. But in the former’s case, the line will deviate towards the left from the top of his spine. Now we’ll address each of these points in the respective order.
The wider angle of delivery by England’s best spinner gave him more room to bring the ball back in with the angle and drift it into the batsman. But the Dom Bess ball didn’t drift and come in as much because he didn’t use the width of the crease. However, the accuracy of that ball was good enough to pitch in the rough and beat the batsman.
This delivery is just an example. From watching the young spinner quite a bit, it is somewhat evident that he doesn’t vary his angles that much but has excellent control. There is nothing much to deduct from the difference in the way Bess and Swann lean to the left. It is just how each of them bowls – one’s posture isn’t better or worse from the other, but it has some part to play which will be revealed at the end.
Also Read: “You cannot do that Ben Stokes”
The aspect where Dom Bess will probably be able to generate more revs is balance. Now his balance is not too off, that is, most of his body is perfectly stable. But like we discussed above, his head falls over a bit at point of delivery while Graeme Swann’s head is absolutely stable. Now, why does that matter with regards to revolutions? Well, if the head and the neck joint is stable, the shoulder is not only a bit more steady, there’s that bit of additional power/support behind it as well when delivering the ball.
This is one of the aspects which translates to how much effort is available for the release. The more the effort or “Oomph”, the better the chance of getting a nice rip onto the ball. And more often than not that helps in generating good revs. So if Dom Bess manages to keep his head more stable, he can bowl with more revs. He already has the weapons of bounce and control in his arsenal, so this additional improvement will make him more potent as a spinner.
But the issue with this is, it’s not that easy to make that adjustment and one has to be sure that it doesn’t compromise the ease of action. The bowler has to feel comfortable and his sense of flow shouldn’t be hampered. Considering that Bess is off to a decent start in Test cricket, getting 16 wickets in six matches, you may think it is risky to tinker with him. But this guy has a lot of potential with the extra revs behind him and he can be quite successful all round.
In fact, there’s a point not mentioned till now as it isn’t something to do with the release that might just bring down or work around the risk. During the pre-release jump, the front knee of Dom Bess doesn’t go up as much as his countryman Graeme Swann (noticed when looking at footage of his 5-wicket haul for Somerset last year). Swann lifts it nearly to the line of his hips with the front leg almost bending to a right angle at the knee.
Now let me explain why this matters with regard to Bess working on his action. When the front knee is pushed upward to a similar line to the front hip there’s not only the extra shade of a second, there is somewhat like a spring action generated at the hip joint. This does what we discussed when addressing the head being straighter – more effort behind the ball.
It does give the bowler an opportunity to impart some revs, but it mostly helps with overspin more, which Bess doesn’t necessarily need. So why even look at this aspect? The rationale behind this is he will get that split of a second extra to stabilize. But most importantly, by lifting the knee that bit more he has more control over his neck and head, as his hip is activated more due. He doesn’t actually need to, nor should in my opinion, lift the front knee to the line of the front hip, in view with keeping niggles to a minimum.
Dom Bess just has to push it up enough to activate it without pushing against the hip too much. Especially with the load that is already on his hip and lower spine because of him arching the back and twisting it like mentioned the second point of difference way above. Fortunately, it is also the reason why Bess doesn’t need to lift the knee too much. With the pressure already generated on the hip by the arch and twist, he just needs to lift his knee some more than he does now. He doesn’t have to do it as much as Swann.
If he finds a way to be successful even without these mild adjustments, which he might just do, that’s just his ability and determination as a bowler.