Bess’s contract at Somerset expires at the end of the 2020 season, and ESPNcricinfo understands that Warwickshire see him as a potential long-term replacement for the retiring Jeetan Patel. The club’s sport director Paul Farbrace is known to be an admirer from his time working with Bess as England’s assistant coach, and is hopeful that the prospect of first-team cricket in all formats might lure him to Edgbaston.
From this season, counties are no longer required to give 28 days’ notice to other clubs before entering negotiations with an out-of-contract player, and have been free to do so since the beginning of June. It is understood that Warwickshire are yet to make a formal approach to Somerset or to Bess’s agent, but that they are likely to do so later in the summer.
Bess spent two months of last season on loan at Yorkshire, playing four County Championship games and six T20s. Head coach Andrew Gale said at the time that the club would “try everything we can” to sign him permanently, but the situation is complicated this year by the fact 12 players at the club are out of contract at a time when funds are limited due to the implications of the Covid-19 pandemic.
There may be several contributing factors when Bess makes his decision whether or not to stay at Taunton. He is currently Somerset’s second-choice red-ball spinner behind Jack Leach, whose contract runs until 2022, but they are competing against one another – and Moeen Ali – for a place in England’s Test team.
Neither player is currently on a central contract – Leach was awarded an incremental contract for 2019-20, meaning the ECB top up his county salary – but both will hope to win one for 2020-21 if they can hold down a spot this summer.
Bess also has ambitions to play white-ball cricket, but has only made four limited-overs appearances (three 50-over, one T20) for Somerset to date. Max Waller, Somerset’s main T20 spinner, is also out of contract at the end of the year, while allrounder Roelof van der Merwe’s deal runs until 2021. It also remains to be seen whether Bess would want move to the Midlands, having bought a house in Taunton two years ago.
Another promising bowler whose contract expires at the end of the season is Mason Crane, the Hampshire legspinner. Crane has had a frustrating two years with injuries, but was part of the initial 55-man training group named by England in May and will come into contention for the ODI series against Ireland at the end of the month. He was expecting to focus on white-ball cricket this year after Hampshire signed Nathan Lyon to complement Liam Dawson in their Championship side, but the opportunity to play across formats elsewhere could turn his head.
Somerset may also face a battle to keep hold of the Overton twins, Craig and Jamie. Both players’ contracts expire at the end of the season, and are sure to attract interest from any clubs in a financial position to offer them a deal. Somerset declined to comment.
The kings of the Dukes ball and how it wasn’t all bad for spin
The Sheffield Shield season of two halves is over, at least for now. Cricket Australia has announced the Kookaburra ball would be used throughout the competition rather than the Dukes coming into play for latter part of the tournament after the Big Bash.
The Dukes has been in use since 2016-17, with the primary aim of giving Australian players more practice against the type of ball (although a modified version) that had often troubled them for a decade in England. Last year, the Ashes was retained in England for the first time since 2001 so, in that sense, the plan had come together although it hadn’t always enjoyed rave reviews on the domestic circuit.
But who fared best when it was in play? We take a look at some of the numbers from the last four years of the Shield.
In the runs
Victoria opener Marcus Harris, who played the last three Tests of the Ashes, is the top run-scorer against the Dukes ball. The form that earned Matthew Wade a recall for that tour is highlighted by his numbers – including a Dukes average of 59.38 – while Marnus Labuschagne’s far more mundane numbers highlight the speed of his development over the last 12 months where he’s scored runs against anything. New South Wales’ Daniel Hughes is again highlighted as one of the most consistent players in the Shield while Nic Maddinson‘s prolific form in the last two seasons is reflected.
In terms of the difference between the top 15 run-scorers against the Dukes and their Kookaburra record, Ed Cowan, who retired in 2018, has the biggest swing and could lay claim to being the king of Dukes batting. Matt Renshaw, who has slipped well down the Test pecking order, also has an outstanding return as does Hilton Cartwright despite the last two seasons being much more of a struggle.
Overall, the batting average against the Dukes was 27.44 compared to 30.05 against the Kookaburra.
In the wickets
The bowling list is unsurprisingly dominated by the seamers, although that is likely more a reflection of overall Sheffield Shield cricket over recent years than specifically the ball (more on that in a moment). The returns reinforce why Michael Neser and Peter Siddle were part of the Ashes squad and plenty of others in the table were in the debate ahead of that tour. James Pattinson‘s Dukes average of 14.92 is eye-catching.
Of those in the top 15 wicket-takers with the Dukes, Nick Winter, the left-armer from South Australia, has the biggest difference in the average in favour of that ball compared to the Kookaburra closely followed by Western Australia’s David Moody. The one spinner to make the list, Victoria’s left-armer Jon Holland, has similar figures with both.
In a spin
It’s the spin numbers overall that are interesting to look at, given the talk of the health of spin bowling (beyond Nathan Lyon) in Australian first-class cricket. Bringing spin more into the game was mentioned in the Cricket Australia release about moving back to Kookaburra all season.
In fact, over the last four seasons, spin has taken wickets at five runs fewer with the Dukes than the Kookaburra. And, if you compare it to the three seasons prior to when the different types of balls were used, the Dukes average is three runs better off with spin averaging 38.36 from 2013-14 to 2015-16. However, what is very noticeable is the reducing number of overs bowled by spinners in those four seasons even taking into account last season was truncated by four games due to Covid-19.
There are spinners, not least Shane Warne, who have said how the Dukes is a better ball for the art. It would appear more needs to change in Australian domestic cricket than just the ball to revive the fortune of spinners.
Recent Match Report – Team Buttler vs Team Stokes Warm Up 2020
Team Stokes 233 (Crawley 43, Robinson 2-7) lead Team Buttler 287 for 5 dec by 54 runs
England allrounder Sam Curran is awaiting the results of a Covid-19 test after being placed in self-isolation at the Ageas Bowl, casting a shadow over the second day of the intra-squad clash.
On the pitch, the battle for bowling places intensified as Jos Buttler’s team, who declared on their day one score of 287 for 5, dismissed Ben Stokes’ side for 233 at stumps.
Injury has kept the country’s quickest bowlers apart since both played key roles in England’s World Cup victory last year, but midway through the morning session they teamed up for a promising eight-over spell that cost just seven runs and yielded the wicket of opener Dom Sibley for 12.
Archer banked the scalp, caught behind flicking the ball down leg-side, but the pair hunted together to unsettle Sibley with pacey short-pitched bowling. Wood might just as easily have been the one celebrating moments earlier, forcing Sibley to fend awkwardly to Ollie Pope, who squandered the chance at short leg.
Wood returned in the afternoon session to take Jonny Bairstow’s outside edge with the first ball of his second spell and finished with spotless figures of 1 for 14 from 11 overs, while Archer returned 2 for 37 after adding Ben Foakes for 38. He received treatment for sore feet late on, understood to be a result of wearing new bowling boots, and was replaced by Surrey’s Amar Virdi – the 29th player involved in the match.
Sussex seamer Ollie Robinson also offered a reminder of his skills, bowling with precision as he accounted for Moeen Ali and Lewis Gregory in a double-wicket maiden.
Stuart Broad could find himself vulnerable to the growing competition, with the fetching white bandana he wore over his lockdown hair more eye-catching than his figures of 0 for 42.
Moeen’s dismissal, lbw for 5, followed a peripheral role with the ball on Wednesday and his hopes of a first Test appearance in a year appear to be receding. Instead, Dom Bess is well placed to hold his place in the side. He bowled more tightly than either Moeen or Jack Leach managed on Wednesday and took a key wicket when he had Keaton Jennings caught at slip before lunch.
Zak Crawley top-scored with 43, a positive innings strewn with neat drives, before he nicked Chris Woakes – yet another able seamer vying for attention. Stokes made his way to 41, and doled out Bess’ only real punishment when he launched him for six and four in the same over, before he was stumped charging Matt Parkinson.
Dom Bess leads as spinners turn up in force for England warm-up
It is hard to remember an occasion when England have gone into their first Test of the home summer with five different spinners all pitching a case for inclusion in the side, but these are unprecedented times.
England’s spin cadre have worked closely with Richard Dawson in the nets over the past week, and all have had the opportunity to bowl in this week’s intra-squad warm-up match.
Amar Virdi looks the least likely to play at the Ageas Bowl next week, having been parachuted into Team Buttler at the last minute when Sam Curran went down with a suspected diarrhoea and vomiting bug, while Matt Parkinson‘s relative inexperience may count against him, despite him luring Ben Stokes into a false shot on the stroke of tea on Thursday to have him stumped.
That leaves Moeen Ali, Dom Bess and Jack Leach: all three of them fingerspinners, with similar batting returns in recent years despite Moeen’s greater pedigree. All three have strong claims to the role, but it appeared instructive that it took 68 overs for Moeen to be brought into the attack on the first afternoon. When he did come on, newcomer Dan Lawrence found it easy to knock him about, and a 27-ball 5 on the second day did little to further his case.
Seemingly, then, England have a choice next week between Leach and Bess, the Somerset team-mates: the former was first-choice going into the winter before his various illnesses, while the latter took his unlikely opportunity with both hands in South Africa.
In this warm-up match, it has been Bess who has impressed more. Leach went wicketless across 15 first-innings overs while Bess took two in his 20 on Thursday; Leach also conceded 3.8 runs per over compared to Bess’ 3.0, and bowled one maiden compared to Bess’ six.
But the make-up of the West Indies batting line-up poses an interesting conundrum, given that there are 13 right-handers and only two left-handers in their 15-man squad. One of those lefties, Raymon Reifer, looks unlikely to play the first Test, while John Campbell is an opening batsman, whom England will hope to dismiss before the spinners come on.
It may be a simplification to look at fingerspinners only through the lens of whether they turn the ball into or away from a batsman, but raw statistics help illustrate the point. Across the last five English Test summers, offspinners average significantly more bowling to right-handers (37.58) than left (28.38), while the disparity is only slightly smaller among slow left-armers (36.42 to left-handers, 30.87 to right-handers).
What’s more, the players in West Indies’ middle order that a spinner may well be relied upon to dismiss have substantially better records against offspinners than slow left-armers, in particular the engine room of Jason Holder, Shai Hope and Shane Dowrich.
Bess played the issue down in his close-of-play press conference on Thursday evening, saying that he was comfortable bowling to whoever he needed to. He cited Moeen’s five-wicket haul at the Ageas Bowl against India in 2018 as evidence that it would not be a major issue – though with left-armer Curran self-isolating, it seems unlikely that there will be as many footholes created outside the right-handers’ off stump this time around.
“It’s funny, you talk about right-handers and left-handers, but a good offspinner or a good spinner is going to take wickets no matter what,” Bess said. “You’ve got to be threatening on the inside or the outside edge.
“I know a couple of years ago at Hampshire, there were big footholes and Mo took a five-for down here with footholes to the right-handers, and I don’t see any difference. If you’re bowling well, you’ve got footholes there, you’re going to be challenging to a right-hander, let alone a left-hander. West Indies have obviously only got one leftie – I wouldn’t mind a couple more lefties, but I’m very happy bowling at right-handers as well.”
While Joe Denly, Ollie Pope and Lawrence had managed to milk Leach easily enough on the first day, Bess proved effective against right-handers on the second, tieing down Zak Crawley (who scored 9 off 17 balls against him) and Ben Foakes (8 off 32) in particular. In fact, most of the damage to his figures was done by left-handers in the shape of Stokes and his rival Leach, both of whom hit him for a pair of boundaries.
“It was a really good challenge today, bowling against Stokesy,” Bess said. “I thought I genuinely did him on one of them, and he just somehow on the up hit it over extra cover for six. I was just thinking: this is why he’s probably one of the best in the world – [he was] absolutely nowhere near it and he still middled it for six.
“After such a long time off and doing so much this winter on it, I was a little bit nervous coming back into it. So I really wanted to make sure I nailed down those fundamentals and actually put myself in the best situation. But I’m really happy with how it’s coming out at the moment.”
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And regardless who England choose, it demonstrates a level of spin depth that has not been seen for several years that there is even a debate around the spot. “It would be quite an achievement [to be selected],” Bess said, “so with that it brings a lot of responsibility to make sure that actually I’m still bowling the best I can. I want to push for that spot and make it my own. That’s normal, because if you’re in our position, you want to be making that first XI, and we’ve got amazing competition.”
To add one final flavour to the situation, counties have begun to declare their interest in Bess in a development that could end the impasse that has come about at Somerset, where Leach is the first-choice spinner.
But Bess insisted that there was “no spitefulness or anything like that” among the spin group. “We help each other, we’re looking to improve each other,” he said. “It’s really nice to see Mo again and learn off him. We’ve got Parky as well who I’m really close with, Leachy I’m really close with, [and] Virds I’ve been on a lot of tours with. For that whole group, it’s great for us to intertwine with each other, chat about spin, and be back with a group of lads playing cricket.”
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