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England in Sri Lanka 2021

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The phrase “can’t wait,” comes up frequently when talking to Dom Bess. At least six times in a 20-minute conversation.

He “can’t wait” for the Test series in Sri Lanka to start; he “can’t wait” to bowl on more responsive wickets and, most of all he “can’t wait” to renew his spin-bowling partnership with former Somerset teammate, Jack Leach.

That’s understandable. After a summer spent playing a supporting role on England’s green and pleasant land – well, pleasant if you’re a seam bowler – he is now facing the prospect of six successive Tests in Asia. The understudy is about to promoted to top billing. Well, top-billing alongside the man who has been competing for a place with him for club and country over much of the last three or four years.

ALSO READ: Leach admits Covid concerns meant he feared for Test future

It’s not hard to see what the England management see in Bess. He is an excellent fielder, he is a good enough batsman to have made a half-century on Test debut and he gives every impression of being an irrepressible character. There’s a lot to like.

Some young players, knowing the starring role into which they are about to be thrust, would become anxious about the responsibility. Especially after an underwhelming first day of action on tour; Bess claimed 1-59 in 16 overs in Hambantota learning, at first hand, that Joe Root is a very accomplished player of spin bowling.

But he laughs off the experience. Reasoning, quite rightly, that conditions in Hambantota – where the pitch was oddly green and provided copious assistance to the seamers – would be nothing like those expected in Galle, he dismisses both his own modest figures and the fact that Team Buttler were reduced, at one stage, to 48-6. “You shouldn’t stress,” he says. “We’re not. It was very good bowling. It’s quite clever from the Sri Lankans in terms of the pitch. I won’t be thinking too much about it.”

The only reservation about Bess is whether his bowling is ready. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with it. It’s just that he is, very clearly, still learning his trade. And, right now, it’s not entirely clear what his weapons are. Most of all, his stock ball doesn’t generally cause the batsmen to adjust as much as you might expect with a Test spinner. There’s little of the drift and dip of Moeen Ali or Graeme Swann; there’s not the spin or the control of Nathan Lyon.

Remember when Shan Masood hit Bess’s stock ball over mid-wicket and back over his head? It’s hard to imagine such a limited batsman even attempting such a stroke against those other off-spinners. In an ideal world, Bess would probably have another couple of years playing lots of first-class cricket before he was asked to keep England’s slim hopes of reaching the World Test Championship final alive.

But we’re not in an ideal world. Adil Rashid is nursing his shoulder back to health; Moeen’s career, even before Covid-19, has been in decline and Leach has been struggling with his health. With English cricket no longer providing much of a breeding ground for young spinners, England have been persuaded to invest in Bess in the hope he will learn on the job and graduate into the real thing.

Maybe if there was an absolutely outstanding specialist spin candidate, the England management would pick them. But as there isn’t and given how many days England spinners are resigned to playing peripheral roles, it probably makes sense to pick a player who can find a way to contribute even when not taking wickets.

This is not entirely new territory for Bess. When he was called into Somerset’s Championship team, he had a modest record in the Second XI Championship with just 24 wickets in 20 matches at an average of 48. But, playing on turning wickets at Taunton, he soon gained confidence and benefited from a volume of overs that would be the envy of young spinners around the rest of the country.

It’s not impossible that history could repeat itself at a higher level. The signs from South Africa, where he provided a vital holding role in Cape Town and claimed a maiden five-wicket haul in Port Elizabeth, is promising.

And that’s why they like him. They know he’s going to have some tough days. And they believe he will react phlegmatically, learn from them and be that much better the next day.

“We were chatting for ages, joking about one day playing for England. Hopefully that could be next week.”

Dom Bess on the prospect of playing with Jack Leach in Sri Lanka

If, as expected, Bess and Leach play in Galle, it will be the first time they have played a Test together. For two men who have competed for a place at both England and Somerset level without ever losing intensity or falling out, it will be a special occasion. Not so long ago, they were dreaming of this day.

“I remember rooming with Leachy in the Somerset second team,” Bess says. “It must have been in 2016 and we were playing down at Kent. We were chatting for ages, joking about one day playing for England. Hopefully that could be next week.

“We have always had a battle between each other. But to get back on the park with him hopefully, and bowl at either end, is something I am certainly going to cherish.

“Myself and Leachy has been a really interesting one. The situation has only made us both grow as spinners and people because being good mates as well, getting dropped or getting picked, and vice versa… it is very tough.

“It’s taken its toll. In those few seconds when I have been picked and ecstatic, and then when he got injured and I made my debut. It was such a strange situation. I don’t think a lot of people will have gone through that kind of thing with a very close mate.

“I only think it’s going to be good for us. We will relish the challenge of being on the pitch together, hopefully in conditions that suit us. And it takes away about wanting to be number one because it’s all about the team first.

“It’s going to be a really exciting prospect but I don’t think anything changes in what we do as a pair. We have a great partnership. It’s really exciting. The main goal is winning as a collective. I can’t wait.”

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo



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Pak vs SA – Kagiso Rabada expects ‘reverse swing to play a role’ in Pakistan

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“It’s not going to be easy. It’s going to be a Test series we are going to have to earn the right to win.”

South Africa are expecting “reverse swing to play a role” in their upcoming Test series against Pakistan, according to pace spearhead Kagiso Rabada. Like the rest of the squad, this is Rabada’s first trip to Pakistan and his first impressions of conditions are that there’s a lack of bounce and movement but the potential for the older ball to move, which bodes well for him.

“The practice squares we have been playing on have been keeping low. There’s not much lateral movement, especially when the ball gets older. We’re suspecting that reverse swing is going to play a role,” Rabada said.

Rabada is the most experienced member of the South African attack and the only one with a proven track record of making use of reverse swing. His hope that it will be a tool he can use in the upcoming Test series is based on what he has seen at the team’s training venue, the Bomi Khambatta Cricket Pavillion, and he will have to wait until the weekend before getting a glimpse of the surface at the Karachi National Stadium, where the Test will be played. Nonetheless, Rabada expects everyone in the South African squad will have to “adjust” to unfamiliar conditions.

“The batters will have to adjust to the ball not bouncing as much as it does in South Africa. That’s always a challenge,” he said. “We are probably going to have bowl straighter lines. This is cricket 101. We’re not sure about how the venue is going to play but we have an idea.”

Rabada may be among the players that have to make the biggest adjustment. He has not played Test cricket in a year, since he last turned out for South Africa in the third Test of a four-match series against England. He was banned for the final game after an accumulation of demerit points for aggressive and provocative celebrations, something he has become known for throughout his career.

Despite several assurances that he will change, Rabada has yet to show that he can rein himself in and seems he will be giving it another try in this series. “It’s just impulsive. Seems like I never learn but I will have to learn,” he said.

Perhaps the thrill of Test cricket will be enough to keep Rabada in check, especially as he reaffirmed his love for the longest format above all others.

“It (Test cricket) challenges you in every way and it challenges you in very different conditions. These days in one-day cricket, pitches are the same and you have high scoring games quite often,” he said. “That’s not to say I don’t love one-day cricket and T20 cricket. They are great for the game.

“But Test cricket challenges you – the weather, the conditions, it’s interesting to see how it all unfolds. Sometimes you are chasing the game, sometimes you are on top and sometimes it’s even and you have to work out ways to get on top and the other team is doing the same thing. builds up to such a climax. And at the end, after all the hard work you put in, especially when you’ve won, it’s extremely rewarding – more than any other format.”

But Rabada has not tasted a Test victory since South Africa beat Pakistan at home in early 2019. That was two years ago. Since then, Rabada played in home series losses to Sri Lanka and England and an away series defeat in India. He missed South Africa’s most recent assignment, at home against Sri Lanka, as he recovered from a groin injury sustained during the T20 series against England. For that reason, there’s some extra motivation for Rabada to go searching for a series win in a place he has never played in before, against an opposition he rates highly.

“I’m expecting Pakistan to come out fighting. They’ve got some good players. It’s not going to be easy. It’s going to be a Test series we are going to have to earn the right to win. I’d love to go back home with a trophy in the bag,” he said. “It would mean the world. We’ve just won against Sri Lanka and guys have taken a lot of confidence from that. It’s our first time touring Pakistan and it would be nice to get a win and climb up the ladder in the Test championship and to restore even more confidence because we know the capabilities we have as a team. We need to start showing that again and building on that.”

South Africa are all but out of the running for the World Test Championship final and lie fifth, more than 200 points behind their nearest rivals, England. But they are in a period of transition under Boucher and Rabada believes it won’t be long before they are back to their best.

“We know we can beat any team in the world. At the moment we are in a rebuilding phase but I think our future looks extremely bright. We are a new team; a building team; a team full of young energy. It is really exciting and I can’t wait to play.”

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent



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Rishabh Pant moves up to 13th in Test rankings; Joe Root back in top five

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Marnus Labuschagne meanwhile moved past Virat Kohli to take third spot.

India’s Rishabh Pant and England’s Joe Root both made significant jumps in the ICC Men’s Test Player Rankings, following their recent exploits in the Brisbane and Galle Test respectively.

Pant, the top-ranked keeper on the batting charts, climbed to a career high No.13 after his 89 not out at the Gabba sealed a famous series win for India. Root, meanwhile, returned to the top five with his highest ratings points tally (738) in two years, as his first innings 228 against Sri Lanka was enough to push him up six places, overtaking the likes of Cheteshwar Pujara and Babar Azam.

Australia’s Marnus Labuschagne also recorded a personal milestone, as his first-innings century in Brisbane took him past Virat Kohli to third spot, with a career-best 878 rating points. Despite a disappointing series as captain, Tim Paine moved up three spots as well, to 42nd, following scores of 50 and 27 in the decisive fourth Test. Among the Australia bowlers, Josh Hazlewood made the most significant leap, overtaking New Zealand’s Tim Southee to bag fourth spot. Hazlewood claimed six wickets at the Gabba, including a haul of 5 for 57 in the first innings.

For India, who had several players chipping in with crucial contributions throughout the series, there were quite a few personal highs. Opener Shubman Gill moved up 21 places to 47th after making a crucial 91 in the second innings, while Pujara went up one spot to seventh following his dogged 56 off 211 deliveries.

Mohammed Siraj, who made his debut during the second Test in Melbourne, jumped up 32 spots to 45th in the bowlers rankings after he took a five-wicket haul in Brisbane. Shardul Thakur and debutant Washington Sundar, who provided one of the first turning points at the Gabba with their partnership of 123 in the first innings, were also rewarded with individual milestones. Sundar reached No.82 on the batting list, while Thakur, who claimed seven wickets during the Test, shot up to No.65 in the bowlers rankings.

The other significant movers on the list were England’s spinners Jack Leach (40th) and Dom Bess (50th), after they both claimed five-wicket hauls in Galle. Lahiru Thirimanne, Sri Lanka’s lone centurion in the Test, moved up 12 places to take the 87th spot on the batting list.



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Australia vs India, 2020-21 – What next for Australia? Captain, No. 5 and Mitchell Starc in the spotlight

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Australia remain a good Test team, but the defeat against India has highlighted a number of issues

Two years ago the defeat against India was taken with a nod of acceptance as the Australia Test team started to rebuild itself. This time, however, stumbling to a 2-1 loss against a side missing a host of first-choice players will leave much to ponder for the hierarchy. Here’s a few of the areas that will need addressing.

The captain

The pressure is on Tim Paine. He isn’t going anywhere in the next few months, but if Australia don’t get the results they need in South Africa to reach the World Test Championship final it may be viewed as an opportunity to take stock. It would be a big call to bring a new captain in for an Ashes series (although there could be a Test against Afghanistan beforehand to start with) but these things rarely happen at the perfect moment. Aside from the issue of timing there’s the question of who should follow Paine, whenever the decision is made. Pat Cummins is the vice-captain and while some see him as the next-in-line there are concerns about him being overburdened. However, other contenders either having significant baggage (Steven Smith) or having recently been dropped (Travis Head). Marnus Labuschagne could come up on the rails although has yet to have any leadership role.

Opening pair

On one hand this is probably solved reasonably easily once Will Pucovski returns to fitness and slots back alongside David Warner. However, even if Pucovski builds on his impressive debut performance it may not be long before he is the one looking for a new opening partner. Warner is 34 and has regularly spoken over the last nine months of having to make a decision over how much cricket he will play going forward. It could be that it is T20Is that are first to go after the back-to-back global tournaments in India and Australia in 2021 and 2022, but the next Ashes could also be a moment to ponder his Test career. Five openers were used against India; Matthew Wade is not a long-term option, Joe Burns needs to rebuild his credentials if he’s to come again and Marcus Harris’ return was unconvincing. Casting the net wider, Sam Whiteman impressed during the Sheffield Shield earlier this season and if Queensland’s Bryce Street builds on the start he has made, showing the ability to bat long periods of time, he could come into the frame.



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