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'I understand it's going to be a long journey' - Dom Bess on England ambitions

After a whirlwind introduction to Test cricket in 2018, Dom Bess has had to bide his time. But, he knows that a good showing on the Lions tour is an investment in his England future

Dom Bess claimed Imam-ul-Haq as his maiden Test wicket, England v Pakistan, 2nd Test, Headingley, June 3, 2018

Dom Bess claimed Imam-ul-Haq as his maiden Test wicket  •  Getty Images

A youngster, coming from a family of cricketers, chooses cricket for a career over the other sport he equally loves. He goes on to make his Test debut on the hallowed turf at Lord's just two years later.
Sounds like the plot of a feel-good film, doesn't it? Well, it also happens to be Dom Bess' real-life story. A keen rugby player, all it took for the England allrounder to pick cricket was just one winter at the Darren Lehmann Academy in Adelaide.
"I think I've really kicked on the late development bit, though I'm just 21 now," Bess tells ESPNcricinfo. "When I was about 18, I didn't get a contract so I went to Australia for a winter after school. My game hadn't really kicked on until then. I loved rugby but I was never good enough to play it professionally. But if cricket hadn't worked for me, I'd be playing rugby now.
"That's when I went to the Lehmann Academy. After that, once I came back, I started playing continuously for the next one and a half years. Living by yourself when you're 18 … I matured that way as well. As I went on, I performed in the second team at Somerset, playing games in the end. I played in the U-19s. I took two five-fors and it all rolled into one. After that winter in Australia, I knew I wanted to be a cricketer."
An offspinning allrounder? How did that happen?
"I have three cousins who are older than me who play cricket.  As a family we play a lot of sport, rugby being one. Especially if I was to be with my grandfather, I always had to pick up the ball. My older cousins would also always want to bat. So that's why bowling came easier to me, my batting came much later on."
In 2018, Bess made his England debut against Pakistan at Lord's. An injury to his Somerset team-mate Jack Leach had opened the door for him in the first Test of the summer. He went wicketless on debut, but impressed with a hard-fought 57 in a losing cause, and followed up with three wickets and a 49 as nightwatchman in the win at Leeds.
But the big break did not mean it would all be rosy for Bess from then on. With Leach back from injury, he found himself going from the Test team to Somerset's second XI in a span of four weeks. He did not make the squad against India and Sri Lanka later that year. Since that memorable debut series, he has been travelling with the England Lions, who are currently playing in India.
"It's been unbelievably tough actually," Bess says. "A lot of that happened very quickly. The dream come true, the rise and until now. It was the quickest three weeks I had in my life and it just flashed by. For me, after it finished, it was all about sitting and taking in that fact.
"When he [Leach] came back from the New Zealand tour [in 2017-18], we were fighting for that Somerset spot as well. From then until now, I haven't played much cricket. Since then I've been trying to get myself back into the county side with every opportunity I get. One thing is that I've had massive highs and massive lows, so I understand it's going be a long journey."
After that winter in Australia, Bess had a meteoric rise. He found himself in the limelight on his Championship debut in 2016 where he picked up 6 for 21, the best figures by a Somerset championship debutant since 1961, on a rank turner in Taunton.
He found success bowling alongside Leach in 2017, when Somerset were fighting relegation, taking 36 wickets at 23.42. Somerset beat Middlesex in their last match to stay in the top tier and both Leach and Bess ended up in the Lions side. A whirlwind of a year then followed.
The fact that that whirlwind has now blown over hasn't brought him down though. He knows England's tour of India is not far away and is well aware of what he can bring to the team in those conditions.
"Firstly, Andy Flower [England Lions head coach] is here, who was a key in Ashes wins, and the India win back here [in 2012-13]. He knows the conditions and the set-up in India. The selectors will go to him and he surely knows what we're doing - especially if we perform here and with the India tour [2020-21] not far away.
"This is a key development and learning curve. As soon as you know how to play out here, it's going to put you in a good stead. If people adapt quicker here, it's a place to show the coaches and selectors what you can do."
That England's selectors have been looking at youth over experience is good news for the likes of Bess. He is looking to turn that to his advantage, especially with the senior team's batting under scrutiny after the series loss in West Indies.
"If I think about my batting right now, one thing I need to do is score regularly," he says.
"I've got to get those 100s. I've got one, and I've got one 90. Getting better at batting will only open doors for me. If I'm making runs, I can obviously ask the question why can't I bat higher, apart from bowling. If you've got an early game at home and you need only one spinner, I'm just going to be knocking on the door by scoring runs as well. You might get in the team that way."
While he was not a part of the series against India at home last summer, he trained with the senior side and played in the tour match against India A. That's when he caught up with the legendary Saqlain Mushtaq, the team's spin-bowling coach, who he feels has "done wonders" for his spin compatriots. Bess also admits to having learned a few tricks from the former Pakistan offspinner.
"When India had come to England I was with the group unofficially, I worked with Saqlain for a little bit. He's fascinating. He's a subcontinent spinner, I feel like his bowling style is way different to a traditional English spinner. To get his views and beliefs on spin is fascinating.
"He talks more of the spin coming off the finger, which I haven't thought of before, to add to my technique, so that's a great understanding for me. That's one big thing I picked from him. Hopefully, if I find my way back into the Test side I'll get to interact with him a bit more. He's done wonders for Mo [Moeen Ali] and Rash [Adil Rashid], and now for Leach as well."
With Bess and Leach vying for the same spot in the England and Somerset line-ups, Bess is looking to use the competition to his benefit.
"It's a fascinating relationship. But at the end of the day we're betting against each other. We also work together, we try to figure out from each other how we can improve. I think that's how you can see why we've had a rapid rise. Of course, we're challenging each other at the same county. At times it's harder when it comes to the England side because we're fighting for the same spot.
"I've been on two England tours and Lions tours. I've had people like Leachy at my county to compete with, and he's helped me. It's made him better as well for him to be one step ahead in preparation. I saw him come back from Sri Lanka, he's on a different level. He's found another gear, now I'll have to keep up with him."

Sruthi Ravindranath is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo