England captain Joe Root has tipped Dom Bess to harness spinning conditions in Galle and prove he can be a leading man in Test cricket as well as a support act.
Thursday’s series-opener against Sri Lanka will be Bess’ 11th Test appearance but his first on the sub-continent, where conditions typically allow for slow bowlers to take centre stage.
Bess has had to settle for a more low-key role for the majority of his international cricket thus far, failing to bowl an over in four of his 15 innings in the field and often being used to hold down an end for the seamers rather than attack in his own right.
Having made his name with Somerset on the turning tracks of Taunton, Bess is more used to hunting wickets than restricting run-rates and it is no surprise that his career-best international haul came against South Africa on a spin-friendly pitch in Port Elizabeth last January.
Root has not forgotten how Bess stepped up to claim five for 51 in that match, nor his grounding in the south west, and is expecting him to shine in the coming days.
“We know Dom has the ability and skills if it does start spinning quite quickly to take advantage of that. It’s a really good opportunity for him to show what he can do in these conditions,” Root said.
“I think the fact that he’s experienced big spinning conditions already at home in Somerset colours will hold him in really good stead and he also had success in Port Elizabeth, where it did spin quite drastically.
It’s the pre-Test ‘virtual’ media conference with @root66 – it can be lonely at the top. Interesting how the Galle ops team have set out the chairs teasing the media to be here. Surreal times. #cricket @englandcricket 🏏📝📷🎥🤳 pic.twitter.com/r73cqX0W5n
— Danny Reuben (@dannyreuben) January 13, 2021
“As someone right at the start of his career, he’s still learning that and that’s exciting to see that he’s had success already, and coming into these conditions where they might be slightly more in his favour, he could potentially really make a mark on this tour.”
England are also awaiting a final briefing before taking the field to remind them of how much they should interact in the heat of the game, with footballers back home increasingly under the microscope for celebrating in close proximity despite the spread of coronavirus.
Elbow touches and fist bumps have been encouraged in cricket since the outbreak of the pandemic and Root suggested they would be attempting to show restraint again in the coming weeks.
“I’m sure the medical staff will make sure that the protocols are kept in place and that if there is anything that needs to be discussed before the game starts, then we are made very well aware of it,” he said.
“We’ll do as best we can to make sure we adhere to that.”
England will make a final call on their side once their final training session is complete, assessing any potential impact of heavy overnight rain. Unless things appear markedly different to expectations they seem likely to go in with Bess and slow left-armer Jack Leach, all-rounder Sam Curran and two seamers from James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Mark Wood and Olly Stone.
With Wood and Stone offering the prospect of express pace, Root appears ready once again to temporarily break up the old firm of Anderson and Broad – who could play one match each.
The skipper explained: “With back-to-back games in these conditions, it’s going to be really important we look after our seamers. Those two are really important assets to English cricket, such brilliant performers, we need to make sure they are looked after well.
“There might be times where they don’t feature as regularly as they have done previously, but that is not down to their ability or being able to perform in this part of the world. We’ll make sure we have the best tools for these conditions and the surface we have in front of us.”