Ahead of the second England-Pakistan Test, Wisden.com head of content Yas Rana, and managing editor Ben Gardner, speaking on the Wisden Cricket Weekly Podcast, discuss whether England should look to include Jack Leach ahead of Dom Bess, keeping in mind the India tour in the winter.
Bess, who kept his spot as England’s lone specialist spinner for the three West Indies Tests, and the first Test against Pakistan, has been largely playing a containing role, which has revolved around a three-pronged pace attack. Across four Tests in the last one month, Bess has picked up seven wickets, finishing with figures of 1-74 and 1-40 in last week’s Manchester Test.
Leach, on the other hand, has been out of the playing XI since England’s first Test against New Zealand in November, following which he had to be rested after contracting illness on the tour.
Yas Rana: I’d still like to see Jack Leach play. You’ve got all those right-handers in the Pakistan order. Bess has got seven wickets so far this summer. He’s not bowled badly but he’s not bowled great. He was quite good at containing in the West Indies series, less good in the Pakistan Test. Even if they were exactly as good as each other as bowlers, I’d pick Leach just because of the left hand/right hand thing.
Ben Gardner: England should be picking teams just to win Test matches in which case Leach should come in, but I’m just worried about the kind of message it might send to Bess. Especially when they haven’t talked at the beginning of the summer as they did with the quicks about rotating the spinners, which would make it an easier discussion to have. But for Bess to have a few chances go down off his bowling and then to emerge with only a wicket or two having actually bowled reasonably well in that first game could be quite a knock on confidence, sort of unfairly so, because of how the summer has evolved, but not because it would be unfair to do so.
YR: I don’t think it is that dissimilar to the [Zak] Crawley discussion. Bess is basically being asked to develop as a cricketer in the England Test team against pretty good players of spin in conditions that aren’t that helpful for spin bowling. It’s a massive ask he’s been given. And linked to the Crawley discussion, there’s a risk that a guy learning his own game in Test cricket might do more harm than good, in the long run, if he has a tough time of it basically.
I just worry about Bess being England’s incumbent spinner going into the winter. Suddenly, you go from ‘It’s okay to do a containing job in England’ to ‘You’ve got to take wickets for us in India’. I do worry that might be one step too far for him just now. I’d probably rather have Leach be the main guy on those winter tours.