Devon native Dom Bess set to embrace England opportunity after being handed maiden Test call-up

When Dominic Bess makes his Test debut against Pakistan at Lord’s next week, he will be very much the baby of England’s dressing room. The good news is, the 20-year-old has spent a lifetime auditioning for the role.

Bess, who will get his chance because of an ill-timed broken thumb for his Somerset spin-bowling colleague Jack Leach, grew up in Sidmouth, on Devon’s idyllic south coast. And he did so in the company of three sports-mad older cousins — Luke, Josh and Zak — who have all played cricket for their county.

Grandad Gerald encouraged Dominic to bowl off-breaks, while dad Russ and uncle Graham loom large — both are 6ft 5in — at Sidmouth CC, who have made the early running in the Devon League Premier Division. The cousins took Dominic under their wing and watched him develop. 

Dominic Bess is in line to make his England Test debut against Pakistan at Lord's next week

Dominic Bess is in line to make his England Test debut against Pakistan at Lord's next week

Dominic Bess is in line to make his England Test debut against Pakistan at Lord’s next week

At Lord’s, he will become England’s 17th youngest Test cricketer, only 10 days older than team-mate-to-be Jimmy Anderson was when he made his debut in 2003.

‘He’ll be nervous,’ says Zak. ‘But he’ll embrace it. He’s got something about him. When the time comes for him to show character, he finds it. It’s probably why he’s done as well as he has.’

Bess will be six years younger than the rest, with Ben Stokes next, at 26. But the theme is a familiar one. When both he and Leach were selected for England Lions recently, Leach remarked: ‘I was still getting p***ed at university at his age.’ 

He clearly encourages mickey-taking: Zak politely suggests Dominic wasn’t an ‘A-star student at school — he provides some entertaining moments’. But Pakistan’s batsmen will underestimate him at their peril.

Bess made his first-class debut against them in 2016, and while he failed to take a wicket, he ensured Somerset earned a draw by batting almost an hour on the final afternoon. 

Later, he sought out Pakistan’s veteran batsman Younis Khan for advice, soaking up gems about the need to get the ball above the eyeline, and to get the batsman trying to read each delivery three times: out of the hand, in the air, off the pitch.

Devon native Bess honed his early skills alongside family members at Sidmouth CC

Devon native Bess honed his early skills alongside family members at Sidmouth CC

Devon native Bess honed his early skills alongside family members at Sidmouth CC

Then, last summer, he took six for 28 on his County Championship debut, removing Warwickshire’s Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell with successive deliveries. 

It was the best analysis by a Somerset debutant for 55 years. In the next match, he claimed five for 43 against Notts. In all, his 63 first-class wickets have cost just 22, serious figures for a slow bowler.

And if he has benefited from Taunton surfaces so spin-friendly that the venue has been nicknamed ‘Ciderabad’, then the fact that Somerset regard him as the right man to exploit the conditions speaks for itself.

‘Ever since he was young, he always turned the ball,’ says Zak. ‘He then had to learn how to bowl it, not just spin it. Dom’s dad and our dad were both seamers, but Dom has these bucket hands.’

But he needed more than long fingers. Bess has admitted he used to carry extra padding, and Zak confirms: ‘When he was young, he was a porker. It took him a while to realise he had to work on the physical side as well as his skills. When that happened, he started to excel.’

Bess produced the best Somerset bowling debut for 55 years against Warwickshire in 2016

Bess produced the best Somerset bowling debut for 55 years against Warwickshire in 2016

Bess produced the best Somerset bowling debut for 55 years against Warwickshire in 2016

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Bess returned bowling figures of 6 for 28 on his Championship debut in 2016 – the best figures by a Somerset Championship debutant since Tony Pearson’s 7 for 63 fifty-five years previously.

Bess owes much to Somerset’s strength and conditioning coach Darren Veness, of whom he once said: ‘I met Daz and he made me run a lot, which I’m grateful for now.’ 

Then there was a winter at Darren Lehmann’s academy in Adelaide. Having grown up in the embrace of his family, the experience taught him self-sufficiency. When he returned for the summer of 2016, Zak noticed a difference.

‘We were batting together at Exmouth for Devon against Berkshire. I was regarded as the batsman, but he took a tough chase on his shoulders, and finished with 50-odd not out. He showed a bit of character that I’d not seen before.’

And Bess is no tail-ender. Unless England pick five seamers against Pakistan, he has a good case for going in at No 8 — or No 9, if Chris Woakes is preferred to Mark Wood.

Last week he made 92 against Hampshire. In March, he made a maiden first-class hundred for MCC against Essex. His batting average (25) is higher than his bowling, often the mark of an all-rounder. 

Now, as he prepares to line up with some of his heroes, he needs to take a deep breath.

‘He was straight on the phone to me when he heard he’d been selected,’ says Zak. ‘He was very excited — and very surprised. He’s dreamed of this moment for a long time. For it to be at Lord’s is very special.’

At least no one will be able to say he doesn’t have youth on his side.

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