Helping England’s Ashes batsmen prepare to face Nathan Lyon was just one highlight of a first Lions tour to Australia for Somerset off-spinner Dom Bess.
Back home for Christmas, Bess spoke exclusively to The Cricket Paper to reflect on a busy month in Australia where he also became one of the first to play at the new Perth Stadium during a series of Big Bash warm-up games against the Scorchers.
Not surprisingly, Bess, 20, called the tour a massive stepping stone.
He learned last week that his performances in Perth have earned him a place in the Lions white-ball squad which visits the West Indies in March.
“To represent your country is an honour,” said Bess. “Three years ago, I would have never thought of where I am today. The memories I’ve made in the past month will stay with me and the experiences will hopefully kick on my career. It’s definitely a real big stepping stone.”
He was no stranger to Australia. Bess, who announced himself in 2016 with the best bowling figures by a Somerset debutant in over 50 years (6-28), spent the previous two winters playing club cricket in Australia and learning his trade at the Darren Lehmann Academy.
The experience certainly helped his development. This summer he won a regular spot in Somerset’s first team, taking 36 wickets in nine matches.
This winter, he found himself pressed into service in the nets before the Brisbane Test: “Nathan Lyon was a big threat, so a lot of the Test lads wanted to prepare well against him.
So, I had to bowl a lot. That’s always a bonus. The more I bowl, the better I’m going to be and if I’m bowling at those sort of guys, you’ve got to adapt to their standard. So, it was always a positive.
“I bowled a lot at Dawid Malan and Jonny Bairstow (England’s centurions in Perth). Those two really stood out in how long they wanted against spin.”
The Lions squad was particularly strong with a number of players having already played Test cricket among more inexperienced, but promising youngsters.
“It was a massive month to really understand what I need to do to move onto the next level,” said Bess. “I’ve only been part of the first-class set-up for 12 games, so it’s all still pretty new.
“I really got on well with Keaton Jennings, Mark Wood, Tom Westley, rubbing shoulders with all these players. They never put themselves on that pedestal that they’d played Test cricket, that they’d been there, done it. That’s the thing I love the most. They were such good blokes, so welcoming. It was really nice for my transition, it was really easy. Hopefully I’ll be around them a lot more now and a lot longer.”
The two T20s at Perth Stadium, held as test events for the new venue, offered a real contrast: “The first game we played, there was no-one in the ground and then the second game, there was 10,000. So, that was quite a weird experience, because that’s the most I’ve ever played in front of, but it seemed empty because it’s a 60,000-seater!”
Bess now looks forward to developing his limited overs skills in the Caribbean, having played only one first-team T20 for Somerset. “It seems like I’ve taken my opportunity in Australia, and shown what I can do and forced my way onto the white ball side, which is a massive positive in my career especially seeing how cricket is going nowadays.
“I want to show how athletic I am in the field and the skills I’ve got, bat and ball – also my game management, because you’ve got to be very aware within the game, especially the speed that it goes at now. Hopefully I can really kick on and show Somerset and England that I’ve also got the white ball skills. It’s a really exciting time.”
He was joined in Australia by Somerset teammate Jack Leach, who Bess describes as world-class and unlucky to miss out on an Ashes spot. It’s clear that the relationship between the pair is a warm one, with both players feeding off each other and celebrating each other’s successes.
Both men enjoyed teaming up again for the Lions.
“To be able to do it with Leachy, my fellow spin twin, it’s always good fun,” added Bess. “We’re very good mates. It was awesome to have him there, because we both bounce off each other.
“When we train together, we’re always looking to improve each other. We ask each other tough questions and actually are quite tough on each other. That’s the only way you’re going to get better. Our partnership is always growing.”