Ian Bell still putting in the hard yards
Ian Bell has been the forgotten man of England's tour of Bangladesh, and that's a situation he probably doesn't mind too much. He was omitted from the one-day leg of the trip as well as the two Twenty20s in Dubai, but an attractive 48 in the first innings at Chittagong confirmed his readiness for a return to Test action, a stage on which he excelled during England's recent tour of South Africa.
England have spent a long time waiting for Bell to fulfil his promise, but with 313 runs in the four-Test series, including a matchwinning 140 in the second Test at Durban and a game-saving 78 a week later in Cape Town, he finished the trip looking more assured of his role than at any other time in his 53-match career.
But Bell being Bell, he's not about to talk up his own importance to the side, and having spent a month with the England Lions squad out in the UAE, he still believes there's plenty hard yakka to be done. "I'm still working my way back and trying to cement myself in the team," he said. "I'm as hungry as ever to score runs and I've been working as hard as I can to do that.
"The month I spent with the Lions helped physically and I faced as much spin as possible, which will help with what we're expecting out here. I don't feel by any means I have a guaranteed place so I'll be working very hard to get that. There's competition for those places, and this is a big series for me."
Nevertheless, it's not a bad time to come up against his favourite opponents. Back in 2005, when his career was just one Test old, Bell was picked for the home Test series against Bangladesh, and reeled off 227 runs without dismissal, including a hefty 162 not out in the second match at Chester-le-Street, after which his career average was an unsustainable 297.
"It was back in England, in completely different conditions, and obviously it was quite a few years ago now," he said. "Bangladesh are a much improved team since then, and if you look at the rankings they've got quite a few world-class players, and we're going to have to play well. We're going to have to work hard to play well in these conditions."
Bell has excelled on the subcontinent in previous series, not least in Pakistan in 2005-06, when he averaged 52.16 in the three-Test series. He's very much at home in the slow, low conditions that reward technique and application, although the same can hardly be said of Kevin Pietersen, who prefers the ball coming onto the bat, and whose search for form is starting to cause England a serious headache.
But as recently as December, following a poor performance at Centurion, it was Bell himself who was the subject of the sort of scrutiny that his team-mate is currently under, and he was sympathetic to Pietersen's plight. "I know what it's like, it's a difficult place to be, but when you know the dressing-room is behind you there's a much easier way through than when you're on your own," he said. "It's difficult to say what KP is thinking exactly, but I know he is working as hard as he can."
With two days to go to the Test - and to judge from the noises emerging from the camp - England appeared to be leaning towards seven batsmen and four bowlers, which would mean that Bell would once again be asked to bat at No. 6, the position from which the bulk of his starring performances have come. Nevertheless, if the selectors feel a fifth bowler is merited, it's still possible that he might be shunted back up to 3, a position at which he averages an unworthy 31.43. But whatever happens he believes he's ready for the challenge.
"I don't think we'll be getting seamers with the new ball for very long, so it's not going to change much," he said. "Wherever I am asked to bat I'll be prepared to do it. I don't try and do anything different, but I've always said I'm desperate to work my way back up the order. I haven't taken the opportunities at No. 3, so if I'm at 6, I'll keep trying to churn out the runs and keep working at moving back up the order. Three is a goal, definitely."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo. Go to http://twitter.com/miller_cricket to follow him on Twitter through the England tour of Bangladesh.