Somerset head coach Jason Kerr is backing Dom Bess to play the game and not the occasion when he makes his Test debut against Pakistan at Lord’s today.
Aged just 20, Bess will make history as the youngest finger spinner to play for England. However, the youngster, who has played just 16 first-class matches, has already proved he’s not fazed by the big occasion.
Take his County Championship debut in late 2016 when he announced himself by dismissing two England batting greats with consecutive deliveries.
Bess told the BBC at the time: “”I had to pinch myself when I got Jonathan Trott out and then saw Ian Bell walking in. These are guys I was watching on TV not so long ago.”
However, far from being star-struck, he spun his way to figures of 6-28, the best for a Somerset debutant since 1961.
Since then Bess has made the most of Taunton’s turning pitches, forming a formidable partnership with fellow spinner Jack Leach and claiming a total of 63 first-class wickets at just over 22 apiece.
Kerr, a former Somerset Academy director and bowling coach, has known Exeter-born Bess from an early age and is in no doubt that he has the right temperament for Test cricket despite his tender years.
Speaking to Last Word on Cricket, Kerr said: “Dom’s biggest strength is his character, who he is as a person. “He’ll play the game and not the occasion, which is exciting.
“He’s had almost a meteoric rise but he’s done that because despite his age, first and foremost he’s a very good cricketer.
“He’s very good with the ball and incredibly competitive and this is a fantastic opportunity for him.”
Bess, whose competitive nature was also much in evidence on the rugby field as a teenager, joined the Somerset Academy at 16 and went on to represent England U19s.
Originally choosing to be a slow bowler because “I was always a little porker when I was younger, so I never took the long run-up”, he has worked hard to develop his game. He spent two consecutive winters in Australia playing club cricket and learning his trade at the Darren Lehmann Academy in Adelaide, playing on very different wickets to those back home at Taunton.
Bess was back in Australia last winter, this time with England Lions, where he impressed England’s top order as a net bowler ahead of the Ashes series. In particular, he worked closely with Dawid Malan and Jonny Bairstow, helping them to prepare to face Nathan Lyon.
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He has shown himself to be more than handy with bat in hand too. His maiden first-class century came in another high-profile game for the MCC against the Champion County Essex at the start of this season – a match in Bridgetown in which he also bagged eight wickets, including 6-51 in the second innings.
Back home in England, a wet start to the season has meant limited opportunities so far with the ball, but he impressed again with the bat, scoring 92 against Hampshire just two weeks ago. He now prepares to play at the home of cricket for the first time in front of a capacity crowd.
Assured and relaxed at a press conference at Lord’s earlier this week, Bess declared himself ready and outlined his approach to the game. It’s a very simple one which has served him well so far: “I’m an attacking off-spinner. I get very competitive which is a trait of mine but it depends on the role and the situation. You are always looking for wickets, aren’t you?”
It is perhaps fitting that his first Test comes against Pakistan, the side which he made his first-class debut against in a tour match at Taunton two years ago. He showed his maturity and confidence on that occasion too. Although just 18, he seized the opportunity, visiting the tourists’ dressing room to seek out advice from Pakistani batting great Younis Khan during his visit.
In making his Test debut today, Bess has benefited from his great friend and ‘spin twin’ Jack Leach’s misfortune. Leach, who made his own debut for England against New Zealand in the winter, was expected to play at Lord’s but broke a thumb in practice at Taunton last week, ruling him out of the series with Pakistan.
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Leach, the country’s leading spinner, had worked hard on his game over the past two years, including carrying out remedial work on a slight kink in his action, so the timing of this injury is particularly cruel.
Kerr said: “I’m absolutely distraught for Leachy. He’s had a tough time over the last 18 months as it is and unfortunately this is another, albeit a smaller setback, it’s still a setback.
“But no doubt he’s an outstanding character, he’s an outstanding spin bowler and it won’t be long certainly before he’s got a Somerset shirt on and he’s out there performing with a smile on his face and hopefully he’ll get an opportunity again with England in the near future.”
Bess revealed at his press conference that Leach had taken the time to give him some advice ahead of his debut: “It is obviously a freak accident, and I am gutted for Jack.
“I was with him the other day. I had a chat with him and asked it what it was like to play for England and he was very good. We chatted about a few things. He is a top man and I am very good mates with him. I look up to him and he is delighted that it was me who replaced him, although obviously absolutely gutted.
“We have a very good relationship. Having that competitive edge with him and working with him – we chat all the time about spin, how to get certain players out – it’s why I think we’ve really grown.”
The pair have been mightily effective as a spin partnership for Somerset over the past two seasons and could yet prove a force for England, bowling in tandem next winter with tours to Sri Lanka and West Indies on the horizon.
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