Pa­tience is the key while Bess learns his trade on the job

➤ Eng­land en­cour­aged by the progress spin­ner is mak­ing as he builds ex­pe­ri­ence to carve out a place in the Test arena

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport Third Test - By Tim Wig­more

Dom Bess has played ev­ery Test this sum­mer, and yet spent much of it with the air of a man stuck on a phone­line lis­ten­ing to the call­wait­ing mu­sic, await­ing his turn.

In Eng­land’s five pre­ced­ing Tests, he had bowled only 97 overs.

Twice, he went through a whole Test with­out bowl­ing a soli­tary ball.

In part, this has re­flected how most Tests have been played in seam-friendly con­di­tions. But it has also re­flected how all seven of the seam­ers picked by Eng­land this sum­mer, in­clud­ing Ben Stokes, av­er­age at least five un­der Bess’s cur­rent 37. It is hardly sur­pris­ing that Bess has, at times, felt like Eng­land’s weapon of last re­sort.

Yet while pre­vi­ous Eng­land regimes would have ei­ther re­called Jack Leach or de­ployed an all-seam attack, Eng­land have re­tained Bess through­out.

His se­lec­tion is in keep­ing with a wider gen­er­a­tional shift in the Eng­land side: for all the fo­cus upon James An­der­son and Stu­art Broad, eight mem­bers of this XI are un­der 30.

No one dis­putes that Bess is a work-in-progress. A month af­ter turn­ing 23, how could he not be? Es­pe­cially for a con­ven­tional off-spin­ner – an art that de­pends on sub­tle vari­a­tions in flight, line, length and sim­ply metro­nomic con­sis­tency – he is sim­ply ex­traor­di­nar­ily young in his ca­reer. Graeme Swann is some­times held up as the model of what Bess could be: an ortho­dox off-spin­ner who, in lieu of mys­tery, thrived with flight, an ag­gres­sive line and a sim­ple zest for the fight. So it is par­tic­u­larly in­struc­tive to com­pare his ex­pe­ri­ence with that of Swann’s at the time of his Test de­but. When first se­lected for Test cricket, Swann had de­liv­ered 4,741.3 overs in first-class cricket – am­ple time to make mis­takes and hone his craft. The years of toil and ma­tu­rity meant that Swann ar­rived in Test cricket al­most fully formed. Now con­sider Bess (left). He had bowled only 477.5 overs in first­class cricket at the time of his Test de­but two years ago – 10 per cent as many as Swann. Even now, Bess has only just nudged past 1,200 first-class overs.

“For me it’s learn­ing on the job,” Bess ad­mit­ted af­ter the third day. “Learn­ing what to do for the side in terms of my role – ob­vi­ously first in­nings try and con­tain and hope­fully, as the pitch breaks up a lit­tle bit more, I come into the game a bit more.” Bess’s very se­lec­tion is part en­dorse­ment of his abil­ity, part in­vest­ment. It is one based on his ev­i­dent rel­ish for the tus­sle of Test cricket, his op­ti­mistic de­meanour as an off-spin­ner and his pen­chant for self-im­prove­ment: since work­ing with Ran­gana Herath and Jee­tan Pa­tel last year, he has be­gun to ac­quire greater pace and bounce. Given the pres­ence of An­der­son, Broad and Jofra Archer, Bess’s bat­ting – he has a neat game and now boasts a Test av­er­age of 28 – is also a sig­nif­i­cant fil­lip.

“I love it, I love learn­ing, it’s a great chal­lenge,” Bess said. “It’s chal­leng­ing my­self, see­ing where I am at the mo­ment.”

But, how­ever ad­mirable this at­ti­tude, it is as a Test bowler that Bess will ul­ti­mately be judged. The third day at the Ageas Bowl af­forded Bess an over­due chance of an ex­tended bowl and, thanks to Eng­land’s gar­gan­tuan to­tal, an in­vi­ta­tion to go on the attack.

On a pitch which did not of­fer ap­pre­cia­ble turn, Bess’s one for 68 from 18 overs of­fered plenty of en­cour­age­ment.

He show­cased his adapt­abil­ity – ad­just­ing be­tween a more ag­gres­sive line out­side off stump and a more de­fen­sive line from round the wicket close to the sec­ond new ball, and both bowl­ing into and against the wind. His soli­tary wicket,

Fawad Alam, was re­ward for a fine de­liv­ery that in­vited the drive and turned sharply.

Bess could eas­ily have had a sec­ond, but Yasir Shah’s edge fell be­tween Jos But­tler and Joe Root at first slip.

Nat­u­rally, the ar­eas to im­prove are ob­vi­ous enough. Shane Warne be­lieves that Bess could gen­er­ate more en­ergy from his hips, as Nathan Lyon does.

Bess must sim­ply be­come more con­sis­tent: 11 per cent of his Test de­liv­er­ies are full tosses, com­pared to Lyon’s three per cent. Ex­pe­ri­ence will bring greater judg­ment of how to ad­just to the ever-shift­ing de­mands of Test cricket.

Whether Bess is Eng­land’s best Test spin­ner right now re­mains ques­tion­able; in­deed, most Som­er­set reg­u­lars would still vouch for Leach. But Bess has given Eng­land enough rea­son to be­lieve his learn­ing on the job will be the pre­lude to an al­to­gether more sub­stan­tive role in the side.

Hard-won wicket: Jos But­tler takes a tough catch to dis­miss Fawad Alam off the bowl­ing of Dom Bess – his only wicket of an 18-over stint

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