ENGLAND LIONS VS PAKISTAN A
Dominic Bess is hoping for a productive outing in the UAE to force his way back into the Test setup © Getty
While Joe Root’s senior squad is out in Sri Lanka, the next cabs off the rank, the England Lions, set off shortly for the UAE where they will play Pakistan ‘A’ in red and white-ball matches. As well as an opportunity for an exciting crop of uncapped players to show what they can do, the tour also presents a number of players, such as Somerset spinner Dom Bess, with a chance to restate their credentials after tasting Test action earlier this year.
The Lions squads contain three players, Bess, Mark Wood and Craig Overton, who have played Test cricket for England in 2018 while Liam Livingstone and Jamie Porter have been included in Test parties without playing. Jason Roy, Danny Briggs and Sam Billings, who have all played white-ball cricket for England, have been selected too alongside experienced county players such as Middlesex batsman Nick Gubbins and Somerset all-rounder Lewis Gregory.
It all suggests a slight change in policy for the Lions. Barring a few injuries, the selectors have picked two relatively experienced squads, in international and first-class terms, which are arguably the next best set of available players to England’s senior teams. The selectors seem to have moved away from selecting younger players in the Lions party which has been the general trend on recent tours. There is only one teenager included in either squad – Surrey’s spinner Amar Virdi – and a number of players, such as Gregory and Sussex spinner Briggs, are in their mid to late 20s.
For off-spinner Bess, the tour is a chance to get some overs under his belt after a frustrating summer. He started the season in England’s Test team for the two-match series against Pakistan, impressing with both bat and ball, but within four weeks he was playing second eleven cricket for Somerset, unable to dislodge Jack Leach from the Championship side as the county opted to play just one slow bowler.
“It was a crazy summer,” Bess says. “At the start, it was a dream come true and then at the back end it was a bit of a struggle. I thought a lot of things were outside my control. With no disrespect to second team cricket, it’s like going from one spectrum (Test cricket) to another. Going from 30,000 at Lord’s to a man and his dog at Taunton Vale. At times I really struggled. This Lions trip is going to be a massive opportunity for me.”
Despite the frustrations, he looks back with fondness at the experience of playing Test cricket and his success has given him confidence that he has what it takes at the top level. “For me mentally, it showed that I can cope with it and I can be fearless in that sort of environment,” he says. But he also knows that he needs to play more. Bess played just seven Championship matches for Somerset last season and has played more limited overs games for the Lions than he has for his county.
Although he is just 21 years-old, Bess knows he cannot continue sitting on the bench for much longer. If he is to regain his spot in England’s Test team, and longer-term, break into the white-ball set-up, he needs to play. Although he is Devon born and raised and has played for Somerset since he was a kid, sooner or later Bess admits he will have to make a decision about where his future lies.
“I know I am 21. I know I have to bide my time a little bit but at the same time I want to play all formats and my big ambition is to play for England,” he says. “If I’m not playing, loan cricket could be a good option for my development. It has entered my mind [moving on] but it would do with anyone. Anyone who says it hasn’t, would be lying.”
Bess has not heard from National Selector Ed Smith since the start of the India series in August. Then, he was left out because of a lack of cricket and with the recall of Adil Rashid to the Test line-up and the inclusion of Moeen Ali and Leach for the Sri Lanka tour, he is now fourth in the pecking order. “I think that works in my favour actually,” Bess says of the lack of communication. “It doesn’t allow you to sit and wait. I have got to keep working especially with a group this talented. You can’t expect things to happen, you have to make things happen.”
With the conditions in the UAE likely to offer some assistance to Bess and his fellow spinners Briggs and Virdi, the one four-day game, five 50-over matches and two T20s are a big opportunity for the 21 year-old to impress. “The conditions put me under a but of pressure which I like and potentially if I do well, I’d like to think I’m close to that Test side if there are any injuries,” he says. “If I do well there in the UAE, it adds another case to hopefully get into the squad.”
Priorities on a Lions tour are always a little mixed with individual development an important goal alongside results. Last week, the squad headed to Lincolnshire to spend a day with the Royal Air Force, replicating officer training designed to test team work and identify leaders. But aside from the development opportunities, the Lions will want to put right their poor tour to West Indies last winter when they were whitewashed in the red-ball games and defeated in the one-day series.
“Pakistan in UAE have got a very good record and they know the conditions well,” says Bess of the upcoming tour. “But with the standard and experience we have got in our group, I’m really confident. A lot of the boys have dominated domestic stuff. There’s a lot of lads who have played a lot of cricket, domestically and for England. We’ve got a ridiculously strong squad.”
November 18-21: Four-day match v Pakistan A, Abu Dhabi
November 25: First 50-over match v Pakistan A, Dubai
November 27: Second 50-over match v Pakistan A, Dubai
November 29: Third 50-over match v Pakistan A, Abu Dhabi
December 2: Fourth 50-over match v Pakistan A, Abu Dhabi
December 5: Fifth 50-over match v Pakistan A, Dubai
December 7: First T20 v Pakistan A, Abu Dhabi
December 8: Second T20 v Pakistan A, Abu Dhabi