"Someone had to go and it was my turn" - Bell
Ian Bell only returned from the warmer climes of the Caribbean a week ago, but had no qualms swapping his shorts and T-shirt for a beanie and three jumpers as he prepared to play for MCC at Lord's. After spending much of the West Indian tour on the sidelines, Bell is desperate to stake his claim for a recall ahead of a momentous summer of international cricket.
"It will just be nice to get back out there," he told Cricinfo. "I've been carrying the drinks for a while and it's vital that I start the season well."
The three months in West Indies were a sobering time for Bell, who began the trip clinging onto the No. 3 Test spot and ended without a place in any of England's line-ups. Patience finally ran out after an insipid performance in the first Test at Sabina Park, where he followed a typically unfulfilling first-innings 28 with a limp four in the second dig. The latter innings was terminated by a horrid cut shot against Suliemen Benn in the final over before lunch.
Less than a session later England were humiliated for 51 and Bell could hold on no longer. He was dropped in favour of Owais Shah and his only other active participation on the tour was in two facile warm-up matches. He wasn't the only one to fail in that second-innings rout, but the pressure had been building for a long time and Bell played with the look of someone who knew time was running out.
"Changes had to be made, it's difficult, no one got any runs and we were beaten heavily so someone had to go and it was my turn," Bell said. "In the warm-up games the runs came, but obviously I just had that one opportunity in Jamaica and we didn't play well as a side so changes had to be made.
"I've got to work hard to get back into the team and I believe I'm good enough. I have a record I can improve on and I'm desperate as hell to get back into the team."
Bell has been dropped once before, missing the home series against Sri Lanka in 2006, and returned with three centuries in three Tests against Pakistan later in the summer. However, he admits that losing his place this time around has been particularly difficult to digest. "It was disappointing not to get another opportunity to try and put that right. While being involved in the England team that was probably one of the lowest moments. We've had some good days, but that was a bad one."
He found himself in the tough situation of being an out-of-form batsman on tour with little to occupy his time, save for drink carrying and net sessions. But he views the experience philosophically, noting that the gruelling fitness regime touring players were subjected to in the Caribbean will serve him well entering a summer that will prove pivotal to his career.
"Andy Flower worked us really hard during, especially during the one-day leg of the tour," Bell said. "I'm feeling really fit coming into this season which will hopefully help me in the middle. I need to make the most of every innings I get early on."
His attempt to win back an England spot begins today as he plays for MCC against Durham in the traditional curtain-raiser to the domestic season. Should the importance of the match be lost on him, he need only look around the Lord's changing room. Michael Vaughan will be launching his own assault on the England No. 3 slot just a few seats away, and the MCC team is being led by Robert Key, who could yet earn the World Twenty20 captaincy.
Bell realises there is no time to waste, and none of England's No. 3 candidates can afford to miss a beat over the next few weeks. "There're a lot of candidates for it, I guess, but it's not for me to say," he said. "I've got to go to Warwickshire score as many runs as I can and enjoy my cricket. If I can give the selectors no alternative but to pick me because I've scored so many runs that's the way I'd like to go."
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at Cricinfo