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.