County news January 21, 2016

Bell replaces Chopra as Warwickshire captain

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Dobell: Bell's England career isn't necessarily over

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • JohnYelton on January 21, 2016, 22:04 GMT

    I have a lot of respect for Bell, in that he has been quoted for several years, saying that once his England days are over he would like to go back and lead his County to success, rather as Collingwood has done. I much prefer this to going straight into the media. As for Chopra, most people thought he did a good job as captain, I thought. However, his form dipped badly, so he went from being on the fringes of the England team to being out the running. If he can regain that form, his chances are not completely gone. If he can be a good county man, his chance to lead the county will come again. Provided he is OK with this change, then everyone benefits. I doubt very much if Bell will come back to England. Dire loss of form from others would be necessary.

  • Nutcutlet on January 21, 2016, 20:44 GMT

    It is quite disruptive to have a captain who is restless to get back into the England side... It may be that Bell scores mountains of runs, but the objective is to pack his bags and get off back to England - in other words using the county game to climb the ladder, which is what young players hoping for an international future are encouraged to do. And should the unlikely event of Bell's return to England colours come to pass, where does that leave Warwickshire? Who is the vice captain? I would have thought he'd have sounded more committed to the county's cause if he'd given up the idea of an England return. There is much dignity in such a decision and respect is rightly given to players who 'give back' to the county game after International careers - Paul Collingwood being the obvious example, but there others like Ryan Sidebottom.

  • BigBellyFan1 on January 21, 2016, 18:11 GMT

    Well done Belly ! Not such a bad scenario. We will all know by June whether he will be back, it's up to the present top 5 to seal their places but even then Belly has got to do the business for the Bears.... Basically, if he's not back for England this year, he won't be back.

  • Iddo555 on January 21, 2016, 17:06 GMT

    @DSA

    Batsman can play county cricket until they are 40 as can be seen with Trescothick so the appointment does not need to be short term, it could be for another 7 yrs.

    Chopra was lucky to be in the side the way he was batting and you can't have a captain who is not playing.

    My issue with Bell's appointment is more to do with the fact he may get back in the England side and then Warwickshire will again be looking for another captain.

  • D.S.A on January 21, 2016, 15:55 GMT

    From the article and the first 9 comments, one aspect that's not been flagged up is Warwickshire have replaced a 28 year old captain with a 33 year old. If this happened at the int'l level, management would be crucified. It seems forced on Chopra than voluntarily. Chopra has done a good job as captain, even though it came at his own expense; going deep into the Blast successively shouldn't be snarled at due to its volatility. The description on Chopra's captaincy is incredibly vague. "sometimes interpreted"? "something approaching apathy"? How about a more concrete description? Regardless of what Bell can offer as a captain, it is going to be short-term, and ironically, if he is prolific as a batsman in the early part of the season, and if there's a middle order vacancy in the England team, England, on Cook's insistence, WILL pick Bell again. Who would Warwickshire then pick if Bell is called up? Chopra? That would defeat the 'logic' of taking the captaincy away from him to begin with.

  • wereyorkshire on January 21, 2016, 15:02 GMT

    I think its fair enough, Bell has about as much chance as KP of playing test cricket again. He hasn't had a single decent tour since 2013, and at this point he has to be behind Ballance, Vince and Hildreth, and that list will only get bigger in the next few years.

  • Chris Ward on January 21, 2016, 14:34 GMT

    I have a feeling he's going to score a glut of runs this year, 1500 . The winter break will have given him his hunger back. Best of luck to him.

  • Iddo555 on January 21, 2016, 14:14 GMT

    I can understand Warwickshire wanting to take the captaincy away from Chopra as he wasn't batting well and couldn't be sure of his place in the starting 11 but giving it to Bell seems strange, they can't be sure he won't get back in the England team and if he does then they'll need another captain,

  • rightarmfilth on January 21, 2016, 14:11 GMT

    Great to see Ian Bell End his career in with the Bears

  • jackiethepen on January 21, 2016, 14:06 GMT

    Chopra has not had a good time with the bat and not been entirely comfortable with captaincy. His Amla-like decision to step down may have even preceded Bell's appointment, to allow him to concentrate on his batting as an opener. After all the opening position is the one Bayliss has called on the Counties to provide. If Chopra improved his form dramatically, ironically he could be in contention while his captain and senior player would be out of the side. Warwickshire aren't going to waste Bell's time with them and want to get the best out of him. With the current management Bell may feel that it may take a while to press his case for a recall. But Bell himself has to recover his form. One thing is for sure that as captain he will come to play all forms of the game, which will be beneficial to a player kept out of the t20 and one day format. Bell will have the chance to develop his game. His ability is not in question. I thought KP's assessment of Bell in his new book was spot on.

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