Dom Bess would have been excused for feeling worried about his future when he sat there in Ahmedabad during the third Test and saw 28 out of 30 wickets fall to spin in conditions tailored for any slow bowler.
Just as Bess would have been concerned to hear his captain Joe Root tell him to go away and work at his game after the first Test, at a stage when he had taken 17 wickets in three sub-continental Tests at 22 runs apiece.
It had the same ring about it of that time in Australia when the then white-ball coach Ashley Giles said Steven Finn had become ‘unselectable’. And, to be fair to the management, Bess had been bowling far too many bad balls for a finger spinner.
England must pick Dom Bess unless he needs time out of the side to regain his confidence
The more it spins, as Axar Patel has shown in the role of India’s second spinner, you don’t need any mystery about you. And you don’t need too many variations. You just have to dial away at a length ball after ball.
Root, as was proven when he took five wickets in just six overs in the last Test, is a more accurate spinner than Bess at this stage. So you could say, even though it was clearly wrong to pick four seamers, England got it right with their spinners.
But, unless England really do feel Bess has got the yips and needs a longer spell out of the side to regain his confidence, he should be playing in tomorrow’s final Test. As long as conditions are anything like the last two Tests.
If not, with their biggest issue being a lack of runs, I’d stick to the solution we discussed in these pages on Saturday and go for the extra batsman in Dan Lawrence, move Ben Foakes down to eight and then select two seamers with Jack Leach. And have Root as second spinner again.
England need to remember they had been winning away from home with Bess in the side
But I would prefer to do it the logical way. Bess is a three-dimensional cricketer. He can give you runs at eight, is good in the field, and England need to remember they had been winning away from home with him before India got them on two raging turners.
England need to put the ball in Bess’s court. The TV cameras were panning towards him as he sat on the sidelines during the recent spin mayhem and it would be easy to now think of him as a better bowler because he is out of the side.
Bess, with 13 Tests behind him and a lot of first-class experience, is not a novice any more and he’s certainly not less experienced than Patel. It is his job as second spinner here to step up now and prove he can do the job when England most need him.
England should also remind themselves this India batting line-up is not exactly full of runs themselves at the moment. Rohit Sharma is playing very well but none of the others have really excelled — not even Virat Kohli.
Everyone thinks of India’s batsmen as great players of spin. The era I experienced and that fab five of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, VVS Laxman and Virender Sehwag certainly were. But I’m not sure the bulk of the current generation are, as they have shown in this series.
It has been Joe Root against India and the other batsmen must deliver in the final Test
The key for England in this final Test is those first innings runs. They haven’t got past 200 in their last five innings and if they had managed to get there the first time in Ahmedabad, they probably would have gone on to win the Test.
They have to regain that elusive batting rhythm and can’t have a policy of block or slog. They have to get the tempo right, know when to sit in and when to attack. They can’t press the panic button and suddenly go for a big shot they don’t usually play. They have to try to use their feet rather than wait in the crease like a sitting duck.
England have to beware of repetitive dismissals. Any right-handed batsman who walks off in this Test having been beaten on the inside off Patel has not learnt his lesson. It has been Root against India and the others have to find a way to overcome the mental scarring.
The greatest thing England could do now is win this Test and say, ‘Thank you very much, we have drawn the series after you prepared pitches to suit yourselves and we’ve just knocked you out of the World Test Championship final.’
India are still under pressure. If England can get that first innings score, as they had been doing before the last two Tests, and get their second spinner in business — as India have done — there is still hope for Root in this series.