Dom Bess’ 5-wicket haul in the 2nd Sri Lanka test is reason to be optimistic for the future of English spin bowling. In just his 12th test, the young off spinner claimed his second 5-fer but whilst he showed promise, his performance had plenty of room for improvement.
Bess will work with Jeetan Patel, England’s spin bowling consultant, to iron out the finer points of his bowling performance whilst in the sub-continent. Patel’s influence along with the return of Moeen Ali will surely benefit the young Yorkshire off-spinner. Though it is difficult to make changes to your technique whilst on tour, it is possible, as demonstrated by Dom Sibley who changed his batting technique ahead of the second test to great effect.
Will it be enough? Bess is a bowling all rounder, not yet a master of his craft in the same way as Graeme Swann or Derek Underwood in their prime. Nor does he have the unorthodox style of Lasith Embuldeniya to flummox more skilful batsmen. India’s batsmen are masters of spin and will prove a difficult test of England’s spin bowling credentials.
England’s off spinning duo, Bess and Leach took a combined 22 wickets against Sri Lanka. That is something that they will be keen to build on. With the return of Moeen Ali hopefully not too far away following his absence through COVID-19 there is reason for optimism. However, whilst the Sri Lankan bastmen carelessly gave their wicket away, India’s will not be so forgiving.
Bess’ 5-wicket haul came cheaply against a poor Sri Lankan batting performance. He will need tighter control of his lengths to dry up the run rate and create chances against the world’s 2nd best test side. With the return of Ali, he may not get the opportunity. If he is called upon, he must be ready to pounce.
As the squad’s senior spin bowler, Moeen Ali’s experience of playing in India will surely come in useful. He will surely be preferred to Bess should England opt for two frontline spinners instead of three as is expected. Ali tasted success in 2012/13 when England beat the host side in India for the first time since 1984/85, under the captaincy of Alastair Cook. More recently, Ali played a part in the 2016 series and whilst he picked up some handy wickets. His efforts were ultimately in vain as India won the series 4-0. On both those occasions, England benefited from an attacking spin option in Swann and Rashid respectively.
Only time will tell if Bess, Leach or Ali can fulfil that wicket-taking role this time around.
A word on mental health
If there was one thing that irritated me during the Sri Lanka series, it was the criticism of Root and Silverwood for England’s rotation policy. Perhaps the critics grew up in a time where mental health was poorly understood. That is no excuse for ignorance now. In a year which promises 17 test matches and the ICC T20 World Cup, all likely to be in bio-secure environments, prevention is better than cure.
The decision to rest Bairstow in particular hit a chord with calls for England’s best 11 to line up in Chennai. Whilst it is easy to criticise the policy from the outside, England’s cricketers are subject to tight restrictions whilst in the bio-secure bubble. Many in the current squad spent months holed up in hotel rooms away from their families in 2020 and will do so again this year. It shouldn’t take a professional cricketer to suffer from severe mental health issues for a rest to be granted. The rotation policy is there for a reason, Root should not be unduly criticised for using it.