Squandering the Crown Jewels

Last week I had the privilege of attending a live County Championship game for the first time in nearly two years. Northamptonshire’s Wantage Road ground looked positively picturesque and the gentle hum of spectators was as tranquil as it had ever been before these dark last 18 months.

I was also able to witness a young English spinner bowling with guile, control and generally giving a wonderful exhibition of his craft, ending up with 7 first innings wickets. The name of this young bowler? Dom Bess.

It has been nearly 6 months since Dom Bess was cruelly and publicly dropped on England’s ill-fated tour of India. No sooner had Bishan Bedi described Bess as the “heir apparent” to Graeme Swann after the first Test than Chris Silverwood, Joe Root and Ed Smith decided that the Devon born man was surplus to their requirements.

Even then they could have handled the situation with sensitivity, perhaps suggesting that Bess was being rested as they did with many other players on that tour. Instead, it was made very clear in the media that he had been dropped. Joe Root even went as far as to discuss with the press the “clear areas he needs to improve on” before returning.

While Bess had, admittedly, not bowled as well as his figures had suggested over the winter, a record of 17 wickets in three Tests is not to be sniffed at. He had shown he had the skills, both mental and technical, to succeed in Test cricket. There was even a wonderful moment picked up on Channel 4’s lunchtime coverage during India’s first innings. While walking off the field, the TV cameras captured Bess discussing with his team mates how he intended to dismiss Virat Kohli, demonstrating with his fingers how the Indian captain would reach for the delivery outside off stump and be lured into the trap before the ball turned inducing an edge which would be pouched close in on the leg side. Soon after lunch, that is exactly what transpired.

Surely a bowler capable of outthinking one of the finest batsmen in world cricket in such a manner deserves slightly better treatment from his captain and coach. By the time a desperate England team recalled Bess for the fourth Test Match it was apparent to all that his self confidence had completely deserted him. This is why it was a particular joy to see him restored to his former self against Northants this week. One hopes that he will be weaving such captivating webs in an England shirt again soon.

Others may not be so lucky. Bess is hardly the only young player to have had their form and confidence destroyed by the bungling of England’s management in the last year. Only this current England set up, which is obsessed with data but ignores common sense, could have selected one of the most promising young top order players in the country for his Test debut at Lord’s and then force him to bat at number 7. It is the equivalent of Gareth Southgate announcing that Phil Foden will be playing in central defence at Wembley on Sunday.

Not content with this, Silverwood and Root then charged poor James Bracey, for it is he, with the wicketkeeping gloves despite it being apparent to even the most casual observer that the Gloucestershire man does not possess the technique to keep wicket in international cricket.

Flummoxed by his confusing role and shorn of all the self-assurance that has characterised his early season successes at Bristol, Bracey predictably managed one run in four innings. If he is given another chance, this failure will weigh heavily on him, adding even more pressure to the already challenging task of forging a Test career.

The tale of calamity does not end there, however. Zak Crawley scored 267 batting at number 3 against Pakistan in the final Test of last summer. One would have thought England would have rejoiced at finally finding someone to fulfil this problem position in the batting order. Alas, no. Crawley was immediately promoted to open the batting for the winter tours. Charged with a completely different role to that which he had just made his own, he predictably flopped.

Crawley’s number 3 spot was given to Jonny Bairstow, a man who, while a fine one-day player, approaches Test match batting with all the care and consideration that Oliver Reed once gave his liver. Crawley has not recovered since. His first innings dismissal against New Zealand in the most recent Test match was the shot of a man who barely even remembers how to bat anymore.

It is heart-breaking to watch the brightest and the best of young English talent being wasted in this manner. Young players are the crown jewels of any international sports team and they are being squandered by those who do not seem to appreciate their value. It is quite extraordinary that amongst the veritable army of coaches and backroom staff that the England cricket team employs in the modern era, there is not a single one who can effectively develop and protect promising cricketers. The phrase “too many cooks spoil the broth” springs to mind.  

The national football team is currently reaching new heights, driven by calm, thoughtful man management and the expert development of young players – penalty shootouts aside. It seems a forlorn hope that the England cricket team will soon follow suit.

Billy Crawford


  • What a thoroughly unpleasant and prejudiced piece of writing! Kent opening bat Crawley is selected to open for England, fails, has a bad patch subsequently. The selectors are therefore incompetent for choosing him as an opener! Crawley is a fine player, but a young one, and he will have downs as well as ups. Whether he finishes up anything like as good as Bairstow as a Test batsman, only time will tell. I think he will, if he applies himself. But there is no guarantee, and plenty of other talented young batsmen around, as Mr Crawford may have noticed at Northampton.

    The same applies to Bess, a terrific talent, perhaps thrust into Test cricket too early because of the absence of alternatives. At the same age, Swann was rejected by the selectors. Ten years from now, will the names of Swann and Bess be linked in our minds as great English spinners? I think – and hope – they will. But there are no guarantees.

    • Hi Dave. I agree that Crawley may not be the best example as he opens for Kent, but I wouldn’t say that Billy was being unpleasant or prejudiced. England have often handled young players badly so I think the general thesis stands up. The more experienced players seem to get a longer rope imho. If you’re one of the core players then you’re never really dropped. Just rested. But I agree that books on Bess and Crawley are a long way from being written. Both have shown vulnerabilities. Time will tell how they develop I guess.

    • Hi Dave. I appreciate Crawley opens the batting for Kent but this is very different from opening in a Test Match, particularly in the pressure cooker of India.
      My point was not that he is unfamiliar with opening but rather that he had a settled spot at number three in the England line up, a place which he had made his own. Not many teams would change the batting position of a player who had just made a Test double century. That is the point I was making.
      Sadly I did not see any outstanding batting talent at Northampton, with the exception of the marvellous Harry Brook. Both teams were dismissed quickly twice.
      Best wishes and carry on enjoying the Full Toss

  • What does it matter? England can put a 2nd XI against Pakistan and stroll to victory. It’s the world the Big Three power grab was meant to create and so it has come to pass. How many people care or even know that this series is going on?

    One wasted talent these matches are revealing is Hales. Even down to a 2nd XI they won’t pick him. Clearly he is “unselectable” without his crimes having been openly judged – or really even with any charge sheet saying what those crimes actually were. We’re left guessing so my guess is that he didn’t tell management what had happened to Stokes when he got back to the hotel – or the morning after. That’s what was so unforgiveable, so they couldn’t put a mop up and hush up operation into place. Now the bloke was actually charged is captain and the bloke who seemed to try to act as peacemaker is out on his ear. What a lovable set-up England are!

    Finally there’s far too much preciousness about some of the supposed treatment of young players – especially place in the batting order. There’s not that much difference batting at No.3 and opening (especially on the subcontinent) or between, say, batting at No.5 or No.6. If someone who’s never opened is required to bat at No.1 against Roberts-Holding-Garner-Marshall while more experienced players cower down the order they’ve got a leg to stand on – but otherwise, get on with it. Most of these complaints are designed to obfuscate that these players aren’t as good as they or some of their fans dream them to be. The reality is that if you look at most great players’ careers they were tried in different places in the order until they found their best spot and then their returns earnt them the right to keep it (Viv Richards batted down at No.5 and was required to open before making No.3 his own etc etc).

  • Keep selection simple. Scrap central contracts and return to the old system of picking players based on their county championship performances. Don’t worry about any who, although talented, are not deemed “team players” – a strong captain would soon sort them out (the waste of KP springs to mind).

    • The problem is though that we have no Test quality batsmen bar Root and Stokes when fit. Why? Simple. Too much shit white ball cricket and the Championship cast into the bookends of the season. Not these young batsmen fault, but they have no way in developing the skills and techniques required for Tests.
      Hashim Amla, aged 38, considered probably “old school” by many batted for 6 hours last week not out for Surrey for just 37 runs against Hampshire, to save the game. Bar just maybe, Alistair Cook there is no batsman in England capable of that.
      The two tests against New Zealand was the worst batting performance by England I’ve had the displeasure to watch. And if that is not a warning to English Cricket and the wretched ECB as to what their hit and giggle obsession is having on the Test team and the CC I don’t know what is.
      Dom Bess? Treated apallingly. A good lower order bat but not in a month of Sunday’s a Test class spinner. Crawley? Maybe, but really with just 5 Tests before the Ashes, Burns apart I don’t even know who England’s Top 3 is. This is really serious stuff.

  • Bess was an example, in India, of someone whose basic skill (landing the ball somewhere on the cut strip) had deserted him. It did not matter how intelligently he could discuss the off spin playbook for dismissing right handers on turning wickets. It is very good to hear that his rhythm and length have returned this summer. But he needed to be dropped then. Crawley is unfortunately looking like a problem selection anywhere in the top three at present; whether he opens or comes in first wicket down doesn’t signify. This is unfortunate, but not attributable to making him open, a necessity given Burns’s paternity leave. If they decide that Sibley is too strokeless to persevere with, and plays too much round his front pad, they may want Crawley to go back to opening. Maybe it will work next time. Perhaps even improve things for him compared with batting at three, where he made 2,2,0 and 17 against New Zealand.

  • Bess had been an accident waiting to happen long before his meltdown in India. Even Root had said publically he needed to go away and work at his game. His figures had flattered him last summer, let alone in the winter. He reminded me of Phil Edmonds, who began his England career with a fiver against the Aussies, including both Chappell brothers, getting their wickets with a full toss and a long hop. He’s never had the variety or turn of Swann, so to call him his heir apparant seems ludicrous to me. The thing that kept Bess in the side as much as anything were his useful batting contributions at 8, a typical England selection obsession for decades now.
    It’s important not to rush Bess back until he’s had some consistent success at county level to buoy up his confidence, which took such a huge beating in India. I can only think of Gladstone Small in the 70’s who went through a similar meltdown with his run up, at one stage bowling a 21 ball over for Warwickshire before being reduced to a 3 step run just to complete it, or we’d still be there today.


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