By Paul Bolton
DOM Bess’s Test debut for England in their defeat by Pakistan at Lord’s was cause for celebration by the Minor Counties Cricket Association and Devon in particular.
Bess became the 11th former Minor Counties player in ten years to play Test cricket following Graeme Swann (Bedfordshire), James Taylor (Shropshire), Mark Wood (Northumberland), Alex Hales (Buckinghamshire), James Vince (Wiltshire), Liam Dawson (Wiltshire), Tom Westley (Cambridgeshire), Craig Overton (Devon) and Jack Leach (Dorset). In addition David Willey (Bedfordshire), Danny Briggs (Berkshire) and Liam Livingstone (Cumberland), who all played their formative adult county cricket for Minor Counties, have progressed into England’s One Day International team.
Bess, the Somerset off-spinner, played for Devon as recently as May 2017 when he made three appearances in the Minor Counties Trophy, the last of them at Sidmouth, the club where his career began.
Bess moved from Sidmouth to Exeter in 2014 to gain 1stXI experience and his career really started to blossom after spending two winters in Australia, the latter at the Darren Lehmann Academy honing his game and playing Grade cricket.
Neil Gamble, Devon’s chairman, is a near neighbour of the Bess family in Sidmouth and is delighted, if a little surprised, by the progress of a player he first bowled to when Bess was three.
“Throughout the summer there are about 85 games of cricket played on the square at Sidmouth because touring teams come from all over the country and other parts of the world,” Gamble said.
“So from the age of ten or eleven Dominic was playing for Sidmouth against adults in these midweek touring teams. At eleven he got 50 no problem at all against a quite a good side called the Shrimps.
“Ever since then we thought he would accelerate through and he would probably become a good county cricketer. We never thought he would be an international cricketer but we thought he would be a good Minor Counties cricketer and, if things fell the right way, he might be taken on by Somerset and, therefore, get into their side in his early twenties. But it’s all happened quicker than that.”
It was an all-round performance against Berkshire in a Unicorns Trophy match against Berkshire at Exmouth in May 2016 that persuaded Gamble and Devon that Bess had the potential to go further than county cricket.
“Berkshire are a good side, they got quite a few runs and it looked like it was all going away from us,” Gamble said.
“Dominic hadn’t been given a bowl, but when he came on, he nipped out their best three players in the middle of the innings and instead of getting 280, which they should have done, they got around 200.
“Then he went in to bat we were 75 for five. An hour later he had won the match, He just crashed it around the park. Then we thought: crumbs, he’s actually rather special. It was the insouciant way he came on to bowl, totally controlled where the fielders were being put, contradicted the captain - which he did occasionally - and then, when he went into bat, played beautifully as if he had a wand in his hand.”
Devon, through Gamble and their director of cricket Keith Donohue, have developed close links with Somerset, a partnership that is mutually beneficial.
In addition to Bess, Lewis Gregory, Craig and Jamie Overton and Ben Green have progressed from Devon to Somerset, in return Devon can call on those players if they are not playing first team cricket for Somerset.
“We have a very good relationship with Somerset. If some of the lads are not playing in Somerset’s first XI, rather than play second XI cricket, they play Minor Counties cricket for Devon,” Gamble said.
“We get very good deals with them in the sense that we have just produced five very good cricketers for them, why shouldn’t they be helping us?”
The ongoing relationship with players they have produced means that Devon share in their successes and their delight at Bess winning his first Test cap will probably be shared by bookmakers in the county.
While he was a student at Blundell’s School in Tiverton Bess played cricket and rugby alongside Jack Maunder, a talented wicketkeeper and scrum-half. Bess’ father, Russell, and Maunder’s father, Andy, played rugby together for Exeter in the amateur era and considered having a speculative bet that their sons would both play international sport.
“Their fathers were talking when the lads were 15 or 16 and said: if we went to the bookmakers and tried to get a bet for our two sons playing international sport within the next five years what sort of odds would we get?,” Gamble said.
“They never did it actually but the result is that Jack, who now plays for Exeter Chiefs, got his England rugby cap first in Argentina last year, and he told Dom; come on you’d better get stuck in now”.