On Tuesday night there were, theoretically, 21 English players hoping to play in the next Test match. The expected announcement of the 13-man squad for Thursday’s game was delayed for 24 hours. This is unlikely to give Joe Denly much hope of a last-minute reprieve but it does hint at some uncertainty among the sages at the top of the hierarchy. Quite why they have to name a squad at all is mildly mysterious; it is probably necessary for those overseeing the players’ remuneration.
The situation is unusual since those overlooked by the selectors will be ever present at the ground, looking on and no doubt pining to play just as Stuart Broad articulated so earnestly after his omission at the Rose Bowl. The conundrums for the selectors most obviously apply in the pace department, especially when picking the final XI. But there is uncertainty elsewhere. For example with Joe Root back, providing scope for auxiliary off-spin, would it be better to have a different type of spinning option?
That would be very tough on Dom Bess, who played well at the Rose Bowl. He is a wonderfully positive character, which is what first endeared him to the England setup. Since then his bowling has improved considerably. As a consequence, for the first time in his career he has been chosen ahead of his county colleague, Jack Leach – this has never been the case at Somerset.
The situation seems tricky on a personal level for the two spinners; being both friends and rivals is not straightforward though it is commonplace in the press boxes beyond the boundary. The Somerset duo keep finding themselves competing for the same spot. Yet Bess paints a convincingly positive picture of their relationship.
“Leachy is a great man,” he says, “and even when I got picked [at the Rose Bowl] and he got put in the reserves, he was the first one to come up to me. We had a chat, we had a coffee. We just chatted about spin and how it is coming out and how he is feeling, how I was feeling.
“There’s obviously going to be that individual disappointment but we are so close that we can chat about things and there is no awkwardness, there’s none of that rivalry. I was a bit gutted that we missed Sri Lanka because it would have been amazing to play with him, but also I think we would have been real dangerous out there.”
With the chances of England playing two specialist spinners being small in this country, Bess is the man in possession, but wise enough to take nothing for granted. “It is very exciting where I am at the moment, to think I am 22, 23 later this month. For me, it is best to make sure I keep grounded, keep working, keep having this no-ego approach. I’m at this level but I’m still learning. If you think you’ve done it, that’s the end of it.”
One who is definitely not playing in the next Test is the Lancashire paceman Saqib Mahmood, who has left the Test bubble before joining up with the white-ball squad on Thursday.