Port Elizabeth: Off-spinner Dom Bess claimed his first Test five-wicket haul as England moved into a dominating position on the third day of the third Test against South Africa at St George's Park on Saturday.
How South Africa needed some rain, not just because of the parched landscape of the Eastern Cape, but also since a draw in the Third Test now represents their highest ambition.
After an interrupted day they finished on 208 for six, which represents quite a recovery since they were creaking ominously on 113 for five when the swirling drizzle enveloped St George’s Park 10 minutes before lunch.
Bess took his wickets in the approved manner from two catches around the bat by Ollie Pope, an equally irrepressible youngster who is also bringing fresh energy to the England team; the third victim was bowled by a turning delivery. As a consequence some serious blinking was required.
Remember that Bess was not in the original tour party; the selectors preferred the leg-breaks of Matt Parkinson until a genuine vacancy appeared as it became clear that the unfortunate Jack Leach was struggling for fitness.
So Bess was summoned; in Cape Town he was selected and played a vital supporting role, providing his captain control but only two wickets. Here he is vying for top billing alongside Pope and, of course, Ben Stokes.
Bess, like Leach, has only really come to the fore as a consequence of Somerset’s decision to liven up some of their pitches by allowing the ball to turn.
Opportunity knocked; the spinners were pressed into action, gaining invaluable experience along the way. Both Leach and Bess have learned quickly and are now internationals.
The ECB’s gratitude for the evolution of two spinners capable of playing in a Test match may be real but is expressed in curious ways: currently that involves a 12-point penalty for Somerset imposed for the start of the 2020 season because of preparing pitches that are too encouraging for spin bowlers.
There is every chance that the Galle pitch which England will encounter in Sri Lanka in March will have many similarities with one or two at Taunton.
The surface in Port Elizabeth is nowhere near as helpful but Bess found just enough turn to induce an edginess in the top-order South Africa batsmen; he also displayed excellent control, thereby adding to the nervousness of a side whose confidence is flaky.
Bess came away from a spin camp in Mumbai last December enthusing about how much he had been helped by Richard Dawson, once an England off-spinner and now a respected coach, and Rangana Herath, the canniest Sri Lankan left-armer.
After consultation between the England staff and Somerset a specific winter programme for Bess was established with Herath having been identified as a bowler who relied on subtleties and skill rather than freakish ability and therefore a suitable mentor.