County news January 21, 2016

Bell replaces Chopra as Warwickshire captain

Ian Bell has described his appointment as Warwickshire captain as "the fulfilment of a boyhood dream."

Bell is replacing Varun Chopra, whose form with the bat has declined since taking on the captaincy.

But Bell insists his ambitions to win back a place in the England Test team remain undiluted and hopes that the longest break he has enjoyed from the game in more than a decade will spark a revival in his own form.

"If I play at my best, I know I'm good enough to get into that England team," Bell told ESPNcricinfo. "But I know I haven't played at my best, or scored enough runs, in the last few months.

"Warwickshire have asked me to do this job in the understanding that I still want to play Test cricket. I haven't picked up a bat since the end of the UAE tour - the longest break I've had in 12 years at least - and I won't do so until February 1. I feel fresher than I have for many, many years and I'm hoping we'll see that time off pay dividends."

Bell is steeped in Warwickshire folklore. Having supported the team as a boy - he was in the crowd at Lord's when they won the 1993 NatWest Trophy - he then represented the team at every stage of their youth system. As a result, representing them has always been about far more than a means to an end in winning England selection.

And while he gained a reputation for diffidence in the England dressing room, he is a giant at county level. In an environment where he has been almost unconditionally valued, respected and supported from the start, he has batted with a confidence and dominance he has shown all too rarely at international level.

To see him captain Warwickshire, meanwhile, has been to see a man confident in his ability as batsman and leader, inspired by a love for the team and deeply admired by colleagues and team-mates. He previously led the side to the Clydesdale Bank Trophy in 2010, scoring a century in the final, and has always said it was his ambition to captain the club at some stage. This is a role he will value and embrace. It is not a surprising decision.

"The club and Edgbaston have been a huge part of my life since an early age and, in the past, I have made no secret of my desire to captain the Bears," Bell said. "I am very proud to now be given the opportunity to lead this exciting squad and to challenge for titles in all forms of the game.

"My England ambitions haven't changed. But I'm trying not to think about that. If I do my job for Warwickshire - lead well and score the runs I know I can - England will look after itself."

Bell will know, however, that he may be in territory once occupied by Mark Ramprakash. However many runs he scores, however many games he helps his team to win, England may have moved on. He has been assured that is not the case - he has had face-to-face meetings with Trevor Bayliss and Andrew Strauss - but, now aged 33 and having retired from limited-overs international cricket last year, his chances of a recall are dwindling. Warwickshire, with Bell and Jonathan Trott in the middle order, may just be able to give Yorkshire a fight in the County Championship this year.

"That's the aim," he says. "We have to ask 'how do we become like Yorkshire?' How do we get eight Warwickshire players in the England squad?

"I want to help us win trophies, yes, but I also want to create an environment where everyone enjoys playing and is able to give of their best. I want to help Sam Hain become the next top player for England and find the next crop of top England and Warwickshire players."

And, of course, he wants to win back that England place. Despite their success in South Africa, nobody has nailed down Bell's spot in the batting order and he certainly believes it is still possible.

"I haven't watched a huge amount of it, because I really was trying to have a break from cricket," he says. "But what they have done in South Africa is magnificent. I've played there; I know how hard it is to win.

"I'm delighted for them. I have a lot of friends in that side and even if I never represent them again, I'll always be an England supporter. Being left out doesn't change that.

"But seeing them win just makes me more determined to be part of it."

Ian Bell could be a regular fixture in Warwickshire's teams throughout the 2016 season © Getty Images

Chopra led Warwickshire to the NatWest Blast T20 trophy in 2014 and second place in both other competitions that season. But his form with the bat appeared to deteriorate with the responsibility of leadership - after recording 1,000 first-class runs in 2011, 2012 and 2013, he failed to do so in his two seasons as captain - and, as a result, his own international aspirations dwindled.

His captaincy also gained mixed reviews. While his calm demeanour was a fine quality when his side was under pressure in the field, in limited-overs cricket especially, it was sometimes interpreted as something approaching apathy over the course of a long season. He is not understood to be especially upset by the decision - indeed, he was party to it - though it will increase the possibility that he returns to a club in the London area in the relatively near future.

"I was surprised when I was offered the job," Bell said, "but it sounds as if Varun wasn't in the best place to continue. If he can concentrate on scoring the runs he has for us in the past, we'll be in a great position. I consider him a key member of the side."

Warwickshire were fifth in Division One of the County Championship in 2015 - a modest result for a strong squad - and made it to the semi-finals of the NatWest T20 Blast. They finished the season looking oddly weary, however, and with the dressing room less content than it had been for several years.

"I have thoroughly enjoyed my time as captain of the Bears and regard our NatWest T20 Blast success in 2014 as one of the best moments of my career," Chopra said. "Whilst it has been a difficult decision to make, I feel that focusing on my batting is in the best interests of the team and I'm looking forward to fully supporting Ian and hopefully contributing to more success in 2016 and beyond."

There is talk within the club that Dougie Brown, the current director of cricket, could also make way in the relatively near future. There are those, not least some players, who feel that Jim Troughton, the captain when the team won the Championship in 2012, would make a better director of cricket. Brown's record, however, is impressive - he won a trophy in 2014 - and the club have limited resources to make such a change. He, like Bell, is part of the fabric of the club; it would be a shame if they could not work together.

While they announced record profits of £3.7m for the last year (before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation) earlier in the week, Warwickshire face a tricky year or two, with lower-profile international fixtures to host and a huge debt to service. They recently cancelled their pre-season tour of Barbados and replaced it with a cheaper tour to Dubai.

"The relationship between the captain and the coach is always vital," Bell continued. "So it's very important to get that right. Hopefully we can do that.

"Being appointed to this job is a dream. It is a role many of my boyhood heroes - people like Dermot Reeve, Neil Smith and Tim Munton - had before me.

"But it is only the start. Making a success of it over the next few years is the key thing now. I can't wait to get stuck in."

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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