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There are two things which England need to do to improve their fortunes. First they need to break Yuvraj Singh’s ankle, kneecap, wrist or whatever other body part will force his absence for the remainder of the series. The other is to admit that the experiment of having Ian Bell opening the innings has proved to be a failure.
I admit that I am always bemused by Yuvraj’s success. There is no guarantee that an overseas signing will light up the county championship, but few turn out to be as disastrous as Yuvraj was at Yorkshire. So dire was he that he was relegated to the Second XI, and even there he did little of note. A nickname was rapidly coined, though it does seem a little awkward now to be referring to a man who keeps making one-day hundreds as 'Yuseless'. He has yet to shake off the tag when it comes to Test cricket, but in the one-day arena he is as clean a striker of the ball as you could wish for - unless you happen to be bowling to him – and his spin bowling is more than handy.
England need to get rid of him, and soon. Fair means having failed to dislodge him, the only alternative is skulduggery. Getting him arrested on some trumped-up criminal charge and held for questioning until mid-December would be effective, as might arranging to have him discovered in flagrante with the wife of the chief of selectors, but in the end you can’t beat some good old-fashioned violence.
Ian Bell has eight hundreds and nineteen fifties among almost 3000 Test runs at an average over 42. He is as delightful to watch when on song as Mark Waugh was, the ball sent skimming to the boundary with delicately-timed, seemingly effortless strokes, classy as a Waterford crystal glass containing a martini as dry as the Atacama.
His batting is the perfect cocktail party guest, sparkling with elegance and debonair charm, but batting in the top three in international cricket is not a cocktail party. At the sharp end of the innings, the batsman is facing the charging bulls who use the new ball, so he must be either a matador who feints and dances before administering the coup de grace or a rough, tough cowpuncher capable of wrestling the beast to the ground – and Bell is neither.
Since Marcus Trescothick opted for a quieter life on the county circuit, England have not had an opener who can regularly subdue an attack before it gets on top. This matters less in England, where a strategy of keeping wickets in hand and accelerating throughout the innings is usually very effective, but overseas it is almost guaranteed to cede the initiative.
Bell is trying to be more assertive but it comes off as Bugsy Malone let loose in “The Godfather”. It is possible that he will develop a tougher crust, in time – but can England afford to wait around while he does?
Part of the problem, of course, is that there are no obvious alternatives. Some county openers adopt the desired aggressive tactics in domestic games, but several of them have been tried out by England and been found wanting. Prior does it for Sussex and is now making an unimpressive fist of it for England, just as Luke Wright, Phil Mustard and Darren Maddy have. They could try Scott Newman of Surrey, but that is scraping the barrel.
The bolder course would be for the captain to take the job on. If there is anyone in the side who is capable of facing down pace bowlers and giving them a piece of his bat, it’s Pietersen. Yes, his preferred position in real cricket is at number four, but there’s a certain Indian gentleman currently taking a bit of a rest who bats at four in Tests but has spent a long career opening in ODIs with great success. And if Tendulkar can do it, surely Pietersen can too.
So come on, KP, lead from the front.
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