These two Test Matches in Sri Lanka are a huge opportunity and a stiff examination for England’s two spinners Dom Bess and Jack Leach.
Tests in England favour seam bowlers, so usually only one spinner is selected as they are normally not the match winner. So often they are asked to do a holding job, keeping runs down and picking up the odd wicket. Sometimes they have to bowl into the wind to save the faster bowlers’ energy for bowling downwind.
It’s very different in Sri Lanka, where the pitches tend to start good with low bounce and then spin. After the seamers have had a burst with the new ball, the spinners have to do the donkey work. It is impossible for seamers to bowl lots of overs in hot humid energy-sapping heat. If you want seamers to be effective, then it is vital they have short sharp bursts. Bowl a long spell or too many overs and they will become ineffective later in the match. Captains have to be careful their seamers are not over-bowled.
In our Summer Tests in England, off spinner Dom Bess has been preferred. At 23 years of age, he shows promise. However, any First-Class cricketer will tell you that most spinners take time to learn their trade. So far in 10 Tests, Dom has 19 wickets at 40 runs for each dismissal, which is pretty high.
Graeme Swann was England’s last great slow bowler, and he made his debut when he was 29 years old. All his Test Match cricket was concertinaed into five years and he was finished at 34. 255 wickets at around 30 runs a wicket. 17 times he took over 5 wickets an innings and 3 times 10 wickets in a match. Impressive figures.
He was an exceptional top-class spinner, but he had years of county cricket experience before he played in the big time. That is the big problem for a young spinner like Dom, who will be full of enthusiasm and youthful energy – will that be enough?
Left arm spinner Jack Leach has had a tough time since his heroics at Headingley in 2018, helping Ben Stokes play the innings of his life to win an Ashes Test. Jack has been unlucky with illness and injury and has to deal with Crohn’s disease. He is at the prime age for a spinner but has only played seven first-class matches since Headingley, which is definitely not enough.
All bowlers need lots of bowling to get in the groove, find their rhythm and feel confident they know where the ball is going. As a slow bowler, it is not enough to get the ball from your end and to the batsman’s end. You have to be able to bowl it on to a sixpence. He desperately needs competitive match bowling and he and his partner should be asked to bowl lots of overs in Sri Lanka.
But the real question is: will he be able to deliver quality bowling having had so little proper cricket? And will the pair of them be able to bowl England to victory?