Considering the fact that Dom Bess has had to bowl in the Championship mostly when pitches do not suit spinners he has had a good season, especially when he took two five-fors. In the last 40 years only five other Yorkshire off-spinners have taken a five-for in a Championship match. Paul Dyson looks back at who they were and how they compare with Bess.
Since 1979, when Geoff Cope last took five wickets in an innings in a Championship match, and up until the 2020 season inclusive, i.e. taking in 41 seasons, there had only been a further 11 instances of an off-spinner taking a five-for and these had featured a total of five bowlers as the following shows.
OFF-SPIN BOWLERS TAKING FIVE WICKETS IN AN INNINGS FOR YORKSHIRE IN COUNTY CHAMPIONSHIP SINCE 1980
IG Swallow 7-95 v Nottinghamshire Trent Bridge 1987
JD Batty 5-118 v Lancashire Scarborough 1989
JD Batty 6-48 v Nottinghamshire Worksop 1991
JD Middlebrook 6-82 v Hampshire Southampton 2000
RKJ Dawson 6-98 v Surrey Headingley 2001
RKJ Dawson 6-82 v Glamorgan Scarborough 2001
RKJ Dawson 5-42 v Lancashire Old Trafford 2002
RKJ Dawson 5-49 v Hampshire Southampton 2002
RKJ Dawson 5-40 v Durham Chester-le-Street 2004
Azeem Rafiq 5-50 v Essex Chelmsford 2012
JD Middlebrook 5-82 v Warwickshire Headingley 2015
DM Bess 6-53 v Sussex Hove 2021
DM Bess 7-43 v Northamptonshire Northampton 2021
In decades earlier than those covered by this study Yorkshire possessed two outstanding off-spinners who regularly completed five-fors in the County Championship. Ray Illingworth achieved the feat on 70 occasions from 1953 to 1968 and Geoff Cope 27 times from 1967 to 1979. Illingworth returned to the county as a player in 1982 but did not add to his tally and the line of off-spinning success then dried up for a considerable period.
One of the reasons for this relative disappearance of the off-spinner from Yorkshire’s ranks was the abandonment of covered pitches. Up until 1980, when the change took place, it was a regular feature of both international teams as well as county elevens that two spinners – one an off-spinner and the other turning the ball in the opposite direction – would be included almost as a matter of course. Thus, Illingworth and Don Wilson (left-arm orthodox spin) dominated the 1960s and Cope and Phil Carrick (also left-arm orthodox) became the spin twins of the 1970s. After 1980, however, it gradually became the norm that only one spinner would make the final eleven and Carrick, for several years until he retired in 1993, was that one solitary tweaker.
This meant that Ian Swallow and Jeremy Batty were not given as many opportunities as they would probably have received in a previous era. Swallow played in 59 Championship matches in seven seasons before moving to Somerset and Batty also in 59 such games but in six seasons before also trying his luck with Somerset. James Middlebrook had two spells with Yorkshire, as may be gleaned from the above table; he played 20 matches in four seasons from 1998, taking part in the historic title-winning season of 2001 and returned to play in six games in 2015, again being part of a Championship-winning squad.
The main reason for Middlebrook being released at the end of 2001 was the emergence of Richard Dawson. Prior to 2001 his first-class experience had been limited to one match for the British Universities but he made his Championship debut at the end of June, played in all of the remaining nine matches and, despite this, bowled more overs than any other Yorkshire bowler in that season and his 30 wickets were Yorkshire’s third-highest for the whole campaign. His reward was to be taken on England’s tour of India and New Zealand in the succeeding winter and played in all three Tests against the former thus, following on from Brian Close and Matthew Hoggard, receiving his England cap before being awarded his Yorkshire cap. He had to wait until 2004 for that but fallow seasons meant that two years later he was released. He had played in seven Tests, tried his luck with Northamptonshire for one season before settling in Gloucestershire, first as player then as a very successful coach, now employed by England.
To complete the story, Azeem Rafiq’s made some good performances as a Championship off-spinner, although he was more suited to the white-ball formats. Bess has now taken 35 wickets in 18 Championship matches for Yorkshire, much of the time, as mentioned earlier, having to perform in seam-friendly conditions. However, his seven for 43 against Northamptonshire was a career-best and it is to be hoped that he will be able to build on that success and, as far as possible, follow in the footsteps of Illingworth and Cope.