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19 April 2024

Winter works wonders for Bess as England take charge against South Africa

Photo: AFP


A little more than a month ago, Dom Bess was in India at a spin bowling camp, having not been picked for England’s winter tours.

On Saturday, the Somerset off-spinner claimed his first Test five-wicket haul on the third day of the third Test against South Africa at St George's Park.

Despite a lengthy rain interruption, England were in a strong position, with South Africa on 208 for six in reply to England's 499 for nine declared, still 291 runs in arrears - and 92 short of avoiding the follow-on.

Bess, a late arrival on tour on standby because of the illness that afflicted his friend and county team-mate, Jack Leach, took the first five wickets and finished the day with five for 51.

"I've worked very hard for days like this," said Bess. "But I also hopefully know there's a lot more to come and a lot more to work on. It's just the start of a journey, hopefully."

Following Ollie Pope's century on the second day, it was the second breakthrough performance by a 22-year-old for England. Bess had taken a total of five wickets in his previous three Tests at a cost of 48 runs each.

He was the first England spin bowler to take the first five wickets in an innings since Derek Underwood claimed the first seven against Australia in Adelaide in 1974/75.

The England coaching staff, in conjunction with Somerset, agreed to give Bess extended time away from the game at the end of the 2019 English season because they felt he needed a break.

Bess went to Mumbai on an England spin bowling camp, working with former Sri Lankan spinner Rangana Herath and England Lions coach Richard Dawson, who played seven Tests for England at the turn of the century.

Bess credited Herath for his dismissal of South African captain Faf du Plessis, who hit him for two successive fours before being caught at short leg.

"With Faf I started around the wicket. He came at me so I went over the wicket, changed the angle a little, dropped my arm a bit and it paid off."

Du Plessis again went down the pitch but the ball hurried through and went off an inside edge and his pad to Pope at short leg.

"Faf wanted to get on top of me," said Bess. "That plays into your hands a little bit."

'Gutted for Leachie'

Bess said sharing spinning duties with Leach for Somerset had made him eager to take every opportunity he got.

"I'm gutted for Leachie," he said. "He's had a tough time in the last six weeks. I know he'll be happy for me.

"I know he'll be working hard for Sri Lanka (England's next tour). Hopefully we could play together and take wickets for England as we do for Somerset."

South Africa were in deep trouble at 113 for five when rain stopped play 15 minutes before lunch. It did not start again until after tea.

In 38.4 overs after the resumption, England could claim only one more wicket – that of stubborn nightwatchman Anrich Nortje, who faced 136 balls in scoring 18 before he was caught at second slip by Joe Root off Ben Stokes in the first over after the last drinks break of the day.

Stokes uncharacteristically dropped Quinton de Kock three times at slip, twice off England captain Root and once off Joe Denly. De Kock finished with 63 and Vernon Philander scored 27 in an unbeaten seventh wicket partnership of 54.

But England remained well-placed to take a 2-1 lead in the four-match series and will start the fourth day with a new ball which is only three balls old.

"We're in a real good position," said Bess.