Bell happy with quiet build up
While the somewhat more brash members of this confident England team have been grabbing the headlines Ian Bell, England's quiet man, has been busily preparing himself for the biggest test of his career so far - his first appearance against Australia, on Thursday at Lord's.
Bell has calmly - almost anonymously - gone about his business for Warwickshire and England this season, and tops his county's Championship averages. The media have spent considerable time debating the side to face Australia, and further more time on Graham Thorpe and Kevin Pietersen - yet Bell barely got a mention in the press. Indeed, his captain Michael Vaughan suggested Bell's place was cemented prior to the Bangladesh Test matches, a sentiment Bell himself didn't subscribe to: "I felt I had a lot to [prove] against Bangladesh," he told reporters during England's media day in London.
"Despite the form I had for my county, I still needed a bit against Bangladesh, especially with the amount of batting competition there is at the moment - which is getting stronger all the time."
He hasn't missed the media glare which has shone on other members of the side, recently. "It was obviously quite nice, not having seen my name mentioned for a while - it's been nice to be in that position, so I can just play my game," he said. The excitement of his first Ashes series isn't daunting him either: "I feel up for it and confident, and eager to see where I am in my game. When you play the best in the world, you really do see where you are in your game, and I'm really excited to be playing against these guys for the first time. I just want to get started."
Having had his talents and potential lauded for so many years, he is understandably pleased that the focus and pressure of expectation isn't so intense. "At the start of the season, when places were up for grabs, I had to score as many runs as possible for Warwickshire," he said. "And fortunately, with the way KP played in South Africa, a lot of the publicity and press were off me and I was able to go about scoring runs for Warwickshire: luckily I was able to do that."
Despite the achievement of making a Test hundred this summer already - an undefeated 162 against a lacklustre Bangladeshi team - Bell hasn't played a four-day Championship match since June 15, almost five weeks ago. As befits his batting style, his response to this was calm and phlegmatic: "It does feel a long time ago since I last played a four day game," he agreed. "Warwickshire have played a lot of one-day cricket, a lot of Twenty20 - but even on Twenty20 days, there is plenty of time to be spent practising. When you start at 5.30 in the afternoon, there's a lot more you can do in the daytime before the game starts, so I've been trying to make the most of that."
While he is keen not to be labelled as a direct replacement for Graham Thorpe, he admitted to sharing similarities in their method of batting. "I'm not really a power-player, so I do see myself as being in the mould of Thorpe, really - and I will go about my batting in the same way he did." England will hope Bell emulates Thorpe's success against Australia and makes the No. 4 position his own this summer.
Will Luke is editorial assistant of Cricinfo