England’s newest Test cricketer Dom Bess believes he has what it takes to take wickets at international level, despite a fruitless first outing at Lord’s. The Somerset off-spinner showed character and flashes of class with the ball during Pakistan’s comfortable nine-wicket win in the first of this two-match series.
He was hamstrung, somewhat, by a shoddy first innings from England’s batsmen, who were dismissed for 184 despite captain Joe Root opting to bat first. Given all spinners, even the greatest of all time, need runs behind them to make an impact by building scoreboard pressure, especially when the surface offers little. Bess’ first effort – 17 overs, none for 59 – showed that there was much to work with. Even though this, a Test debut, was just his 17th first-class match, he seemed to take it all in his stride. He even went out of his way to talk shop with his opposite number in the Pakistan side.
“I wasn’t fazed at all,” said Bess. “I knew it was going to be a pretty big task as the spinner first up, but if you look at (Shadab) Khan’s figures from the first innings, he bowled six overs for 34. I remember having a quick chat with him and he said it was very tough to bowl.
“It was interesting to get his thoughts on it. Overall I thought I held my own when trying to contain. I went at just over threes and I wasn’t fazed by the crowd or the occasion and the media attention. It was just another game of cricket. I had a little bit of nervousness, but nothing to the extent I remember having for my first-class debut.”
In assessing the intricacies of his spells in the first and second innings (3.4 overs, none for 29), Bess appreciates that there is little margin for error at Test level. On a few occasions, he would spoil a succession of dots with a four ball, at times frustratingly with the final delivery of the over.
“I think the one big thing I can take from this game is how to bowl maidens. I’ve got to be able to construct six good balls together which is something I usually do. It is just about understanding that at this level you can bowl an OK ball but it can still go to the boundary. They can play good shots and understanding that is key.
“In the second innings I potentially tried too hard to try and take wickets… you want to make an impact and I bowled a couple of full tosses.” One of those full tosses was swatted away to the boundary by Haris Sohail to confirm Pakistan’s win. “I need to have that consistency, so it was a bit of a learning curve for me to not try and do too much. It could have been interesting had we managed to take it deep into day four or five and had around a 200 run lead.”
Things with the bat went better. His 57 in the second innings saw him become the fourth youngest England player to score a half-century on Test debut and formed part of a 126-run West Country-made partnership with the returning Jos Buttler. In the end, it only delayed defeat as both were removed on the fourth morning – Bess the last to go – to give Pakistan their target of 64. But the chance to bat at Lord’s and combine with Buttler, who left Somerset for Lancashire in 2013 meaning he left just as Bess was coming through.
“To have two West Country boys doing the business for England, I think the people down at Somerset would have enjoyed that passage of the game. It was nice to bat with him (Buttler). He’s played a lot of cricket with my cousins who are his sort of age. He left the same time as I joined the academy. I’ve always looked up to him, he is a world-class player and even though we don’t know each other well, we’ve known of each other and it was nice to bat with him.
“That was an amazing feeling to get my first half century for England, a very special moment. Walking off at the end of the day felt great and I was in a bit of a zone to be honest during it.
“The final morning was disappointing, losing Jos early before the new ball arrived. If we were to have any chance then Jos and I had to put another big partnership on and take the new ball out of play. In Test cricket though you can always get a good one and Jos got a pretty good one to get him.”
All told, Bess reflects that the last few days have been “crazy”, as was the chance to share a dressing room with “the likes of Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad, Alastair Cook, Ben Stokes and Joe Root”. His family, too, were able to enjoy the experience with him, out on the field when he received his cap from another Somerset and England twirler, Vic Marks. But Bess expects more from himself and the Test side and believes wholeheartedly that England can turn things around on Friday in the second Test at Headingley.
“Joe (Root) wants to build a culture now after the winter. He wants a culture where it is a successful side for a long time. We’ve got a good group of core players in the side and they drive it and everyone is on board. Things will happen but it is not a short process.”
Meanwhile, Trevor Bayliss believes he is still the right man to lead England’s Test side. While the ODI side have won 38 out of 57 internationals under his watch, and will go into next summer’s 50-over World Cup as favourites, Lord’s was their 20th defeat in 44 Tests as head coach. He admitted to frustration that England’s work behind the scenes was not coming to fruition on the pitch, particularly in the batting.
“I’ve committed to September 2019 and I don’t know how anything can be done differently. Some of the problems we’ve talked of are being worked on in the nets all the time. All of these guys have done it but we’ve got to work hard for those first 20 or 30 balls to get in and then play the ball under our eyes. That’s the one we’ll be successful. We just need to have confidence that’s the right way to do it.”
“I look forward to a bit more gardening if that’s the case. I enjoy doing it and I think the messages we’re giving the guys are the right ones. I can obviously understand the questions that are asked, that’s the lot of the coach, and if someone higher up makes that decision so be it.”
England have made one change for the Headingley Test with Lancashire’s Keaton Jennings replacing Mark Stoneman in the squad. Jennings made the last of his six England appearances in 2017 against South Africa, finishing that first part of his Test career with 294 runs at an average of 24.50, managing a century and a fifty against India in the winter of 2016. Stoneman pays the price for scores of nine and four at Lord’s which leaves him, currently, with 526 Test runs at an average of 27.68 and a top score of 60.