There was a parallel universe on Friday in which Dom Bess was England’s saviour. And there were only a few millimetres in it.
In the last over before tea he was convinced he had Rishabh Pant leg-before. Nitin Menon disagreed, and England reviewed: umpire’s call on height.
Pant had 35, and India were 152 for six, still 53 behind. With Pant later racing to an outrageous hundred, the moment was decisive, both for this Test and the series.
The review was unsuccessful after Dom Bess thought he had dismissed Rishabh Pant
The India star went on to score a thrilling century and turn the game in his side’s favour
That is not to question the officials, who have been very good. It is simply a reminder of the margins that can separate heroism from haplessness. And for most of the second day of this fourth Test, Bess fell on the wrong side of the divide.
His selection for this game looked flawed even before he started serving up full-tosses with a regularity that Sportsmail columnist David Lloyd diagnosed as a case of old-fashioned yips.
Bess, it’s easy to forget, was dropped by England after the first Test, where he helped win the game with first-innings figures of four for 76, including Virat Kohli caught at short leg. Trouble was, he was losing his length: eight second-innings overs cost 50 and were sprinkled with full-bungers.
Afterwards, Root said Bess needed to go away and work on his game. And in the third Test at Ahmedabad, Root himself took five for eight – evidence that on current form, and with Moeen Ali rested, the captain was his team’s second-best spinner after Jack Leach.
Bess is still young at 23 and there’s a sense England want him to run before he can walk
What changed between England’s very public disavowal of their young off-spinner and the decision to pick him for a crucial game, with the chance of a memorable 2-2 draw? Root said before the start that Bess had ‘become a better player’ for his absence. On this evidence, that was wishful thinking.
It’s hard to avoid a couple of conclusions, and neither reflect well on England. One, they seemed determined to pick the side they thought they should have played in the previous game, when they had too many seamers. Instead, they have ended up a seamer light.
Two, they are hoping Bess will be able to run before he can walk. He is 23 – in off-spinning terms, still a novice. For everyone’s sake, Root could easily have bowled Bess’s overs in this game.
To watch him struggle in the heat seemed unfair on him and his team-mates. Each new spell produced fresh bounty for India’s batsmen, and hastened the need for Root to return to the tiring Jimmy Anderson and the exhausted Ben Stokes. Bess’s figures of 15-1-56-0 added up to a wasted space.
The 23-year-old spinner has been inconsistent and bowled too many poor deliveries so far
By the time the second new ball came round, Stokes – who has been fighting a stomach bug – was a goner, and Pant was making merry. For England, it was a mess. And it was clear that, for the second time in a few weeks, Root had lost faith in Bess.
Much has been made of his record in the three Tests at Galle and Chennai before he was omitted. On the face of it, 17 wickets at 22 suggested a spinner at the peak of his game.
But anyone who saw his five for 30 on the first day of the series against Sri Lanka knew he had been served his wickets on a silver platter, thanks to a mix of reverse sweeps and ricochets off close fielders. Even at Chennai, the key wicket of Cheteshwar Pujara came via the shoulder of Ollie Pope, cowering at short leg.
The real story behind the flattering figures was of a youngster still making his way, and no doubt struggling with the pressure faced by any visiting spinner in the subcontinent.
It was a tough day for Bess but he is resilient and that should stand him in good stead
It confirmed the hunch of many good judges last summer, when Bess took eight wickets at 55, and never nailed a Test-match length.
Towards the end of a chastening day, he won an lbw appeal against Washington Sundar, only for replays to show an inside edge. Bess crouched for a moment at the crease, as if collecting his thoughts.
Then he smiled. He is down, but not quite out. It is a trait that will stand him in good stead next time England pick him for Test cricket. But they will need to think long and hard first.