It is easy to forget the nitty-gritty details in a remarkable Test match such as the one at Southampton. According to the scorecard, Dom Bess, the lone spinner in the England side, went wicketless in the final innings while Roston Chase, his opposite number in the West Indian ranks, picked up two crucial wickets in the innings before that.
But if you did watch the Test keenly enough, Bess was perhaps a lot more threatening than Chase. He generated drift away from the West Indies right-handers – mind you, there are 10 of them in the Windies line-up – and got the old ball to dip and turn.
GET IN @DomBess99! 🙌
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) July 10, 2020
And it’s easy to make Bess the fall guy. Ben Stokes’ decision to bat first under cloudy skies on day one was partly driven by the belief that spin would play a major part on day five. But there seemed to be a distinct lack of trust in his 22-year old spinner on the final day with just 200 runs to defend. Bess bowled just 10 overs in the final innings despite nearly taking two wickets.
Bess had Blackwood edging in the 19th over only for Ben Stokes to drop him at the slip cordon. A little after this, he nearly had Shane Dowrich trapped in front with one that turned sharply but a review proved fruitless as the impact was slightly outside off-stump.
“It’s just the opportunities that went missing in that last innings,” Dom Bess said in a video conference from Manchester. “It would have been nice to have that lbw shout, it could have potentially got us on a roll to have them four down. It’s coming out really nicely and if I get picked, hopefully we’ll get a big score and I can spin a couple out.
As this shows, Dom Bess has bowled a fair bit wider than his opposite number Roston Chase. The West Indies spinner bowled much tighter into the stumps, while Bess is putting the ball out wider, drawing the drive. #ENGvWI pic.twitter.com/VFPlXbYwDx
— The CricViz Analyst (@cricvizanalyst) July 12, 2020
“I know I went wicketless in the second innings, but like I said it could have turned… And actually, the thing I’m focused on is how well it’s coming out at the moment, I do feel really dangerous and that’s a great place to be. I think as a spinner, some will go your way some days, some won’t. That’s cricket. I don’t look too much into that. I want to contribute with bat, ball and in the field, and when opportunities come I just want to make sure I take them.”
While the fact remains that Leach could be more threatening to the right-handers – as proven by his numbers for Somerset against right-handers – in the West Indies line-up, Bess isn’t one-dimensional either. He tested quality right-handed batsmen with his dangerous drift and might actually be in really good rhythm despite what evidence from day five on paper suggests.
“I feel like I am attacking both edges of the bat. My consistency and accuracy within where I am landing it is dangerous. That comes through training, getting that feel, that rhythm. I’m very big on my rhythm, getting into it. It’s just a feeling, I guess and that’s certainly what I think I have got at the moment,” Bess said.
Put in a similar situation again, Bess is confident, even bullish, that he will thrive. Seeing it as an opportunity to express himself on a turning wicket, Bess assures that he is under no pressure whatsoever.
“I’m used to bowling on spinning wickets,” he said. “People talk about this pressure of it being on me, the last day… I’ve spoken a lot with Leachy about it, this pressure that people put on us. I actually flip it around, it’s a great opportunity – it’s like saying to a seamer, it’s a green one today, are you worried about getting them out? Course you’re not, you’re excited because it’s probably in your favour a little bit more. And that’s how I look at it, certainly the last couple of days and hopefully when it spins, it’s my time to shine and stand up.”
Lovely bowling from Dom Bess. He found a perfect bit of drift away from the right-handed Hope, and it just drew the edge.
Bess actually got 3.95 degrees of drift away from Hope – more than any other ball he bowled to the Windies No.3.#ENGvWI
— The CricViz Analyst (@cricvizanalyst) July 10, 2020
That said, there’s no guarantee he will play the second Test. With the hosts one down and the nature of West Indies’ line-up going more in favour of Leach, Bess could be an easy scapegoat for England’s loss at Southampton. However, fighting for a place isn’t new to Bess who played alongside Leach at Somerset until last season.
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“I am playing at the moment but I am not taking it for granted. I know Leachy is behind me and I know how much he is working. I’ve had to fight for my spot for a long time I guess, always being behind. Potentially it’s a little bit different at the moment, the feeling. But it’s about making sure that I focus on what I can control. I know it’s a big cliché but it is as simple as that. I’ve got to make sure I am doing what I can do, day in and day out. There is no rivalry with it. We are helping each other to be as best we can for the England side. That’s a great place to be.”
It is perhaps unfair that despite doing all that was asked of him, Bess finds himself in the firing line as England prepare for the second Test. It might be worth recalling that his career-best show came just two Tests back.