England off-spinner Dom Bess says he was surprised by South Africa’s lack of aggression on his return to the Test side in January.
Bess played two Tests against Pakistan in 2018 before being overlooked until the end of 2019, with Moeen Ali, Adil Rashid, Jack Leach, and Matt Parkinson all winning call-ups in his stead.
Bess’ short first stint in the Test side was a creditable one, with the Somerset twirler claiming 3-33 in England’s series-levelling victory at Headingley, but his bow at Lord’s proved expensive as he conceded 4.26 runs per over across his 20.4 overs.
Returning to the side in place of the ill Leach, and having leapfrogged wrist-spinner Parkinson with his performances in nets, warm-ups, and in a Mumbai spin camp in December, Bess won plaudits for the containing role he performed in England’s stirring win at Cape Town before claiming a maiden Test five-for in the third Test at Port Elizabeth.
His Cape Town figures – Bess maintained an economy under two an over across his 60 overs – surprised even him, with the finger-spinner expecting the Proteas to take the attack to him instead of simply playing him out.
“In Cape Town where it was, I think, a very good wicket, and people weren’t going after me, I was so surprised about that,” he said on the Sky Sports Cricket Podcast. “I’ve seen these players on TV as I’ve grown up and I’m thinking ‘God they’re going to take me down here.’
“When I got Faf out, he nailed one straight to square leg, that was quite a surprising moment for me. First because how hasn’t that gone for six? And then how the lads came in after that, they were blocking me when I thought they could be caressing me through extra cover. That was quite a surprise.”
Fellow podcast guest Graeme Swann echoed Bess’ thoughts, crediting it to the effect that playing at Test level has on a batsman’s psyche, and suggesting his own early success against Rahul Dravid was down to a similar cause.