On one day, Dominic Bess woke up as a hero, after his exploits on the third day of the Chennai Test and on the other, as a rejected one, after being part of the English setup for over a year now. England’s trust in Bess signals a disjointed plan, a plan that could very well define the series.
Being a spinner in world cricket is next to impossible, the pitches all over the world don’t aid you, making your life tough and the conditions, which favour you, you don’t get the due respect and applause. Now combine that with the factor of being an English spinner, while you are surely not destined to play every game at home, the minute you step into the sub-continent, you get unduly criticised and even dropped.
If Ravichandran Ashwin, after picking up his 400th Test wicket gets criticised for the pitches made, a certain Dominic Bess was dropped after picking up a six-fer in the first Test against India in Chennai. Now the decision to replace him with Moeen Ali, seemed plausible and definitive after his inconsistent show in the first Test but when you are against the wall, to ignore the wall completely, defines their trust.
England indeed were in a spin, are in a spin - after their shambolic performance in the Ahmedabad Test, where they read the conditions as bad as a teenager, who studied for a test he didn’t want to give. But more than the Test and the conditions that made the headline, England’s trust, or lack of in this case, in Dominic Bess has opened up a new chapter in the Three Lions chapter. Bess had picked up 17 wickets at an average of 22.41 in the year but that didn’t stop the management from sealing his fate for the next two Tests which has, in turn, turned England from favourites to win the series to an outsider to draw the series. In the Ahmedabad Test, the visitors walked with just one spinner while picking up as many as four-pace bowling options.
On paper, in a pink-ball Test, it would have sounded as a plan etched in gold but it wasn’t, the conditions weren’t one bit seamer-friendly, barring the odd overs under the lights. Even if England read it otherwise, their lack of trust in Bess was a telling factor, especially since his ability to pick wickets, in a jiffy. While with James Anderson and Stuart Broad - they would have wanted to go with their trusted choice but the conditions?
Now they didn’t just drop him, they picked Moeen Ali, sent out a message that even after playing an entire year in the English whites, Bess wasn’t skilled enough to make it to the playing XI, was wrong on all measures. While England’s bowling has got the leash from the public in the series, it was that very same bowling that took 20 wickets in the first Test, the same combination - Leach and Bess, which has won them two Tests in a row - in Sri Lanka.
By their logic, none of the top-order, excluding Joe Root - would warrant a place in the playing XI - after what they have shown in the previous two Tests, an all-time low for the Three Lions in a country that they have always taken pride in playing. While on the pitch, they really couldn’t get their head around the ball spinning, away from the pitch as well, they couldn’t wrap around the fact that spin, in fact, could win them games.
“England need to bring Dom Bess back into the side for the next match and play two spinners and they need to think about the balance of the side. I would also make sure Jimmy [Anderson] plays the next Test – he has been the most threatening seamer,” wrote Monty Panesar on The Times website.
Headlined by Joe Root’s comments, Dominic Bess needs to work on building consistency to his game, delivering his skills from time and time again. The talk is around building pressure over long periods of time, which is something that England never did during the entirety of the third Test, where they went in with just one spinner.
"Dom has contributed fantastically well in these three games and has made a real impact. With him missing out, the messaging for him is to keep working at that consistency of his game, delivering that skill time and time again. We talk about building pressure over long periods of time and, as well as he has done and the contributions he has made, that is one area he can improve on,” Root said after Bess’ decision.
Magically, the off-spinner is never going to transform overnight into Graeme Swann but without an opportunity in conditions where the ball will favour his bowling, he will never be able to showcase his identity. England have already lost time, on the mess that they have created, in the past two Tests. The Bess decision is not something that would hurt them just this tour but even might cause the off-spinner to go down the confidence route, a similar treatment to Moeen.
"I think Dom just needs a bit of a rest, to be honest with you. He's been in the bubbles a long time now, and just as we try to rest and rotate the seamers, it's started to become evident, especially to me, that maybe Bessy was becoming a bit tired and it might be taking a toll on his outcomes in terms of where he was bowling the ball,” said Jeetan Patel after the first Test.
At the age of 23, having hailed from Exter, Bess has already shown that the next-line generation of spinners are ready but England, have to, need to start trusting them, now more than ever. Combined with Jack Leach, the duo have picked up a combined 444 first-class wickets for Somerset but after the very first Test, they were separated, once for a returning Moeen and the other time, for a pace attack.
As Swann has mentioned from time to time, it is not the physical part of the game which has hindered Bess but the mental part, one that has been specified from time to time, England need to play the off-spinner to get rid of that. A player overnight transforms into a hero, neither did James Anderson in Asia nor did Rishabh Pant at home. The drift, the spin and the dip - something that Bess is known for, has gone missing, not because he has performed badly but because he hasn’t been picked.
"My advice for Dom Bess is all mental. He has it in him to bowl a very nice off-spin shape. When he finishes his action, puts a lot of revolution on the ball and drives through his back leg, he gets a bit of drift and dip.”
The Three Lions need to reconsider their plans - now - with the series and a future on the line, not just for themselves but also for an off-spinner, who picked up six wickets in the first Test. If his ball that turned and took out the Indian skipper by surprise, his selection, rather non-selection, has taken the team’s bowling performance by surprise.
After trusting the duo for over a year, England’s trust in Bess signals a disjointed plan - because of the way they have treated him after a poor day in office. Just when Bess had arrived in Chennai, he disappeared at the same venue in the very next Test, reading disjointed from every angle.