England off-spinner Dom Bess says he fell out of love with cricket for a while in between making his Test debut aged 20 in 2018 and his successful recall to the side in South Africa over the winter.
Bess played two Tests against Pakistan in the early part of the 2018 as cover for Moeen Ali, who was absent at the IPL, and the injured Jack Leach.
Wicketless on debut at Lord’s – though he did hit a half-century with the bat – Bess took three wickets in the second Test at Headingley before then returning to the Somerset ranks.
He has spoken of his mental health struggles since, but made a triumphant return to the England Test fold in their 3-1 series win over South Africa, where he claimed eight wickets across two Tests, including a first-innings five-for in Port Elizabeth.
“Yes, I fell out of love [with cricket] quite a bit,” Bess said on the latest Sky Cricket ‘lockdown’ podcast – listen in the player below or by downloading on Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.
“Coming into September, it was quite an interesting time because we [Somerset] were chasing the title. Leachy wasn’t round because he was playing in the Ashes; I was the main spinner and it was a funny time.
“I’ve struggled with my mental health over the past couple of years and that certainly took a toll. I didn’t enjoy it at all.
“I took five weeks off after the season, went away to Croatia and just enjoyed being 22 and, after that, I came back with huge motivation.
“Just that breathing space was great for my cricket and so crucial for what then happened in South Africa.
“I’m very fortunate with who I have round here, with the likes of Marcus Trescothick, Leachy, Steve Davies. They’ve all been through different things.
“To have them around, but also your best mates away from cricket, that don’t have a clue, is so key.”
Reflecting on a “crazy winter”, which saw Bess suddenly called away from a spin development programme in India in order to again deputise for Leach, the offspinner said he learnt from his first experience with England.
“It certainly did [exceed all expectations],” added Bess. “I was going to India, I was going to work hard out there, try and improve a little bit more; to get dragged out to South Africa was the best thing for me.
“I wasn’t expecting to do anything other than run the drinks for 10 days, but what happened to Leachy opened the door a little bit.
“It was unexpected again. Like my debut.
“It was great for me. To hold up an end at Cape Town was really pleasing and then to go on and do what I did in Port Elizabeth gave me even more confidence that I can take wickets, turn an innings and get the team into a winning position.
“With two more years under my belt, Iooking back at some of the balls I bowled in the Pakistan series, I could really see the change.
“Everyone talks about how I was sort of a side-spinner, so in those last two years, I’ve been trying to get up and over the ball a lot more.
“But having more experience, learning how to manage my emotions, was the big thing as well.
“I was also trying to be a little bit more intelligent with how I went about things, how I looked to get people out, setting the right fields etc. I think I certainly was better equipped going to South Africa.”
Joining Bess on the podcast, another England off-spinner, and his idol growing up, Graeme Swann imparted some motivational words.
Swann, with 60 Test caps and 255 wickets to his name – the seventh-most by an England bowler – said so much of the game was about ‘bluff’.
“What I used to do; and I know it may sound weird to people, I would get fully dressed in my England kit before a big day and I used to go in the bathroom at Lord’s, The Oval or wherever and talk to myself,” said Swann.
“‘You’re going to be man of the match, the whole country is going to be calling your name’. I’d keep saying it until I believed it.
“And when you do that, you convince yourself that you want it. I want to be man of the match; I want to beat Jimmy Anderson to five wickets; I want that bit of jealousy.
“I’d do it until I’d walk out of the dressing room like I’d had a big team talk from Bobby Robson, feeling as though ‘I’m going to smash this’.
“Of course, I look back and there are many times I did that and yet bowled like a drain. But, if you put yourself in that mindset, you immediately think about taking wickets rather than just landing the ball in the right spot.
“The game of Test cricket is a bluffer’s game. I’d always bowl in glasses because I had hay fever, but also because it would hide my eyes.
“I’d flick the ball and try to look as confident as possible. I took that from Shane Warne. He’d stand there looking like the cockiest man in the world; ‘I know something you don’t know’.
“Ninety per cent of batsmen, especially as you get more wickets, will start playing you as the bowler rather than the ball.
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