Maunder and Bess offer cautionary tale but could yet triumph in sequel

时间:2019-07-22 责任编辑:宗正霰坠 来源:合乐888首页 点击:2 次

Occasionally professional sport throws up a story that is heartwarming and cautionary in equal handfuls. This one involves two schoolboy friends from Devon who played cricket and rugby respectively for England before their 21st birthdays, only to find that meteoric rises can morph into rapid descents. There remains plenty of time for emotional sequels but the tale of Dom Bess and Jack Maunder serves as a reality check for all aspiring youngsters.

Eleven months ago at Lord’s and earning glowing praise from no less a batting judge than Geoffrey Boycott. The previous summer in Argentina, Maunder came off the bench to help in the final seconds. Now Bess cannot pin down a regular place in Somerset’s XI while Maunder finds himself in a similar position at Exeter Chiefs.

It is a modern Boy’s Own yarn with an uncomfortable twist. Would you be satisfied simply to be considered good enough to pull on an England shirt or, having had a taste, would it forever niggle away if you never kicked on? On Thursday afternoon, with intense West Country rain showers peppering the windows, the latter is clearly the dominant emotion.

“You wouldn’t be a good sportsman if you didn’t think like that,” replies Maunder, speaking for both of them. “It would mean even more to represent England again because we’ll have earned it.”

Maunder and Bess during their days at Blundell’s School in Tiverton. Photograph: A Davidson/Alex Davidson

Clearly there are worse things in life than to be young, playing top-class sport and representing table-topping clubs. Exeter lead the Premiership while have made a fast start in all formats. Bess and Maunder, though, have mostly had to settle for supporting roles.

The month after Bess had shared in last June’s in which he scored 49 as a nightwatchman, claimed three wickets and took a brilliant one-handed catch at mid-on, he was back playing “in front of one man and a dog” for Somerset seconds. He made 185 but still found himself omitted from Somerset’s next first-team fixture at Worcester, to make way for a fit-again Jack Leach. With the England Test squad about to be chosen for the series against India, the writing was on the dressing-room wall. “For me that week was the biggest kick in the teeth. From that point I knew I was never going to play again for England that summer.”

Maunder, for his part, has had his progress checked by wrist, shoulder and knee injuries, as well as the presence of Exeter’s experienced former Wallaby Nic White. Among his fellow England debutants in Argentina were Tom Curry and Mark Wilson, both now red rose regulars. To date Chiefs have lost only four of the 28 league games in which the younger scrum-half has featured but that has yet to translate – he is on the bench again on Saturday against Harlequins – into a consistent starting place.

While the 22-year-old remains thankful to be at such a thriving club, his spell on the outer did briefly take a mental toll. “You do feel sorry for yourself at some points. It’s probably even worse when you’ve come from such a high. You know what’s out there and what you could be experiencing.”

Studying for an economics degree at University has not always been a simple distraction – “Having you head down in a text book with crutches either side of you is a bit demoralising” – while Bess has consulted a psychologist to try to rationalise his career trajectory. “I’ve sat there and thought: ‘Where have I gone wrong?’ What have I done that wasn’t good enough?’ But in the end you just have to accept it’s someone else’s decision.”

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At least both of them can recall their golden moments with absolute clarity. Bess remembers every detail of his dream debut, from being called up while shopping in Ikea to walking into his first team meeting wondering if Ben Stokes would have any idea who he was. Having received his England cap from Vic Marks of this parish, he made a conscious decision not to waste his opportunity.

“It didn’t matter to me whether I was good enough. I’d been picked! I knew the wickets would be better and 30,000 more people would be watching but I’d say both Jack and I thrive under that kind of pressure. Some people crumble but it’s almost fight or flight – you’re either going to panic or prosper. The big thing for me was coming off on the third evening at Lord’s and being able to say: ‘I can play at that level.’ I’d scored fifty and Jos Buttler and I had put on an unbroken 125; I didn’t want the day to end.”

Maunder’s two-minute debut was similarly eventful. He learned of his tour selection while lying on the physio’s table at Exeter, having torn a calf against Harlequins. His race to regain fitness was understandably tense, not least because only two scrum-halves – himself and Danny Care – had been named in the squad. When a groin strain interrupted his buildup to the first Test in San Juan, it appeared the fates might be conspiring again.

“I didn’t think I was going to get on but, with two minutes to go, it happens. There’s a lineout and we call my least favourite pass in the world where you miss 10 and hit 12 straight away. It’s a long pass for my little arms. Then, all of a sudden, Denny Solomona’s through and I’m behind him thinking: ‘Oh my God, he’s going to pass to me, I’m going to score the winning try on my debut.’ Luckily, he just ran off and scored himself.”

Some may be wondering how, exactly, two unrelated boys from deepest Devon rose so swiftly up the greasy pole in the first place. Bess has a few theories, not least that the pair spent part of their youth under the same roof. Their respective dads, Andrew and Russell, had played rugby for Exeter together and, rather than commuting from Sidmouth, Bess Jr lodged with the Maunders near Cullompton for five years while he and Jack attended Blundell’s School in Tiverton. The school helped to expand their sporting horizons and competitive extra fitness sessions in the garden did no harm either. The Maunder family’s youngest member, Sam, has since emulated Jack in captaining England at age-group level and graduating to the senior Chiefs squad.

It merely underlines the depth of competition in English sport, with its legions of ambitious professional wannabes. Then again, scrum-halves and off-spinners rarely reach their prime until their late 20s and Bess already understands how fast things can change. “You do feel a million miles away but it can happen so quickly. That’s one thing I’ll always cling on to.”

And, just maybe, doing it tough now will prove beneficial in the long-term. “I almost wouldn’t want the journey to be smooth,” says Maunder. “This is how it should happen, you should have to graft your way through.” If both can conquer their respective twin peaks, the widespread sense of Devonian pride will be even stronger.