England v Australia, NatWest Series, Chester-le-Street July 7, 2012

Loud shots land softly for Bell

Ian Bell's return to England's ODI side was not championed throughout the land but he is now liberated of his troubles over the winter and in some form to take on South Africa.

There is something about Ian Bell that means even at the height of his game he will never quite make the earth shake. Bowlers will never feel bullied and spectators will rarely gasp in admiration. Sometimes it has to be admitted that readers might not even bother to read. It is his lot in life and he must put up with it. It cannot be denied, though, he is in the finest of form.

He made 69 before chopping on against Clint McKay, extending a run against Australia in the NatWest Series that had previously brought him 53, 41 and 75. His prowess was again apparent, but it is prowess largely without presence, the sort of classical approach that soothes the mind without ever quite quickening the pulse.

Well, grant him this: presence or no presence, the manner in which Bell has reclaimed his England one-day place is extraordinary, his graceful talent paraded time and again. England were preparing for life without him in one-day cricket and whatever people might claim in hindsight there were no protests at the gates. Nobody was especially passionate in arguing his case, neither in the media or the public at large. Somebody in Kings Norton might have shrugged a little in disappointment but revolution there was not.

Bell, though, retained his hunger. Beneath the forever boyish countenance, desire remains entrenched. Since Kevin Pietersen ditched one-day cricket for England three weeks ago and Bell took his chance to return with a century against West Indies at the Rose Bowl, he has scored 364 runs at 72.80 with one hundred and three fifties. He has become a final component of an England side who have extended their winning run in ODIs to nine. One Australian was heard talking about them as favourites for the World Cup in 2014/15, quite a shock for a country that has never won it.

Bell might never be the tough guy in the tattoo parlour, but at least now he can claim he is so menacing that Australian bowlers are breaking down the moment they set eyes on him.

"He is class, isn't he?" Alastair Cook, England's captain, said about Bell. "He is hard to bowl at because he can score 360 degrees. We are getting off to good starts which makes it easier. Kevin Pietersen is a world-class player but we have had to move on and people have had to step up to different roles.

"Bell is not unappreciated in our dressing room. The way he has played in the last two years is outstanding. He has worked so hard at his game, he is always first in the nets, and he is getting just rewards for it."

In that comeback innings against West Indies, Bell began with an effortless straight six, but played the shot in such considered fashion that he made the exceptional look routine. Perhaps deep inside himself he wanted it to be seen as a powerful, chest-out statement that he was back, but to the onlooker it did not quite feel like that.

Many of Bell's most dominant shots are understated, so perfectly constructed that they are almost taken for granted. They demand deeper contemplation. As Krusty The Clown once bemoaned in The Simpsons about something entirely different: "Aw crap, I said the soft part loud and the loud part soft". So it is with Bell in full flow: he flows so effortlessly that the loud shots land softly.

The observation on this website after that Rose Bowl innings that Bell's knock lacked the theatrical appeal of a Pietersen hundred brought howls of protest, much of it not fit to print. The howls, though, came entirely from Pietersen admirers, who felt without justification that their man had been slighted. Hardly anybody ever writes in Bell's defence. Perhaps they do not view things so emotionally and are out dog walking or spraying the roses.

Bell might never be the tough guy in the tattoo parlour, but at least after this innings he can claim he is so menacing that Australian bowlers are breaking down the moment they set eyes on him. Shane Watson and Brett Lee both pulled up with calf injuries and left the field, managing less than four overs between them. They might not play again this series.

Up on the hillside stood Lumley Castle where it was reported on a previous Ashes tour that Watson was afraid of ghosts. These days, Australia stay in Newcastle, but Bell may still walk before him at dead of night, his head clasped in the crook of his arm, haunting him for the rest of the series.

There were some fine shots for this Chester-le-Street crowd to savour: some fulsome drives through extra cover and serene clips off his legs. He chopped James Pattinson past David Hussey's fingertips on 21, but that was his only uncertain moment. It was another systematic innings in his orderly universe. His poise was a million miles away from his traumatic time against Saeed Ajmal in the UAE in the winter. He looks liberated, classical, ready to pit himself against South Africa in the contest to be the No. 1 Test side in the world. England can be grateful for that.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • John on July 10, 2012, 22:03 GMT

    @jackiethepen - My original post did not make it so I'm retyping it.Yes it's the 5th ODI since his recall - apologies for forgetting WI matches.I was dead against Bell coming back into the OD squad but his average was mediocre and his strike rate the worst of the current Eng batsmen.He had scored 1 100 in over 100 inns 1st time around so I think the stats backed up my concerns.I also thought Bell should have been dropped in the UAE (for a 5th bowler). Our batsmen were pathetic and Bell was the worst but even at the time I said that by dropping him now doesn't mean they can't bring him back in a series or 2 time. I praised him fully and unreservedly after the WI series and have said so far he is proving me wrong in the OD side so fair play to him.Just because I air my criticisms and don't go overboard about Bell doesn't make me a Bell hater.I want England to succeed and if I feel it is better with a certain player or without a certain player I'll say so and give my reasons for it

  • John on July 10, 2012, 15:49 GMT

    @jackiethepen - PS , RE " I would pretty much bet that on the basis of Bairstow's ONE good innings in ODIs you promoted him to all forms of the game" - No not at all. I have always wanted 5 batsman , Prior and 5 bowlers - even before the UAE series. Eng are too rigid to try that these days and would rather continue their so far fruitless search for a settled number 6. Bearing that in mind I'd go for Compton as a number 6 batsman but I'd say Bopara is nailed on for that spot. My favourite Eng player is probably Broad , but if he has an iffy game/period I'll admit it and I wouldn't try and straw clutch by mentioning a bit of fielding he did above someone taking a 5 for or scoring a 100 etc

  • Jackie on July 9, 2012, 11:47 GMT

    Have you been out of the country JG? This is Bell's fifth ODI game since his recall. He averages 72. The first game answers your own question because Bell came in with 10 stitches in his chin and a possible broken jaw and clobbered the Windies for 126. It wasn't a run chase but setting up a total good enough to defeat their big hitting line up. We won that game and the next when Bell got 53 and Cook 112. Just read a report in the Northern Echo which doesn't carry any baggage of being a Bell Nay-sayer. Gave him credit for the win. 'Success story' 'Bell set the tone for the England innings'. I would pretty much bet that on the basis of Bairstow's ONE good innings in ODIs you promoted him to all forms of the game. Yet you are niggardly in your praise of Bell. Why can't you be proud of how he has performed - for once? You ignored that Bell was messed around like no other batsman. Flower should have promoted Bell to open 18 months ago. You stand by your judgement to keep him out? Why?

  • Nicholas on July 9, 2012, 11:37 GMT

    Appreciate the comments/feedback - thanks guys. I withdraw my statement about "Bell being tooted as England's best no. 3". I do not have the luxury of Sky Sports etc. and therefore have to make do with highlights, which often focus/zoom-in on certain 'battles', so one of the key images in my mind of the 2005 Ashes was Bell being unable to pick Warne, and subsequently getting out to him no less than 3 times. But, as you guys rightly corrected, he was batting at 4. I think there was an article later, when Bell DID move to position 3, and the Aussies sledged a bit. Bell responded well, and I love players that do the talking with the bat/ball, not the media! Peace out.

  • John on July 9, 2012, 8:37 GMT

    @Pauline Griffiths/DavidHopps on (July 08 2012, 16:05 PM GMT) Personally I like Bell although I stand by my criticisms which I made of him at the time. I was dead against him coming back into the ODI side but that was because he was by and large awful when he changed from whites to blues - esp in terms of SR and his ave wasn't great either.And in the tests in UAE he was the worst of a bad bunch of batsman and I still felt they should have dropped him for an extra bowler. I still think 5 batsmen is the way to go vs SA but Bell has done well enough to cement his place for that series. Bell has done well since being recalled but I'm still not 100% confident of having the top 4 all in the same line up if we have to chase a big score. This is just 3 games into Bell's recall and 2 of them were comfortable run chases and the other one we'd have lost if it hadn't been for Morgan's acceleration.

  • Jason on July 9, 2012, 6:44 GMT

    From my Perspective Bell has grown a lot under the leadership and influence of Strauss and Flower, Prior to 2009 I sometimes thought Bell didnt fullt understand his role and was frequently messed around by the management teams that couldnt decide on the best place to bat him. That said he doesnt come across as a premadonna like some players (Flintoff and KP)....In the End Bell is in a rich vein of form and is letting his batting do the talking, as soon as he has a few misses, the same old questions will be raised in the media.....I personally hoped that bell would have a good ODI summer and cement his ODI place and hes done that, and hes done that, hopefully this will continue into the later part of the summer.

  • Alex on July 9, 2012, 2:35 GMT

    Perhaps fans who appreciate a player like Ian Bell tend to not feel the need to voice their opinions so loudly on message boards, while fans of players like Pietersen are somewhat more vocal and dare I say less able to appreciate good cricket (and therefore criticise players like Bell). When Bell is reaching the end of his career I expect there will be endless comments about what a great he was, and how it is a shame to see the end of such a wonderful career, much as there is/was with players like Dravid and Chanderpaul.

  • Jackie on July 8, 2012, 19:39 GMT

    Like Pauline Giffiths I am puzzled about THAT Ashes Series where Bell was touted as England's Best 3 (R_U_4_REAL_NICK) and made to look silly by Warne. In 2005 Bell was a rookie bat at 4. Warne got him out 3 times in 10 innings, so perhaps Warne has exaggerated his role in Bell's struggles in that Series. In 2006/7 Bell came in as a replacement for injured Vaughan so hardly touted as England's Best. Cook was also a last minute replacement for Trescothick who went home. Bell and Cook famously took on Warne in that Series (see celebrated video on YouTube) and Bell ended up with a respectable 4 50s and Warne only got him out twice in 10 innings. Warne is now one of Bell's biggest fans and calls him The Bellmeister. He has advocated Bell opening in ODIs and moving up the order in Tests. Bell is adored on his home patch both in the Warwickshire dressing room and playing for the Bears. That says a lot about his 'character' from those that know him best. Ricky Clarke nicknamed him Legend.

  • Don on July 8, 2012, 17:43 GMT

    @RandyOZ 'Bell will be crushed by the Saffers' well we will have to wait & see (unlike you I cannot tell the future) but in the meantime he has proved to be in a different league to the Aus batsmen. Having said that your predictions you made before this series so far have come to nought

  • Dummy4 on July 8, 2012, 16:28 GMT

    @ Pauline Thanks for your posts. If the most considered England cricket watchers have taken Bell to their hearts then that is totally deserved. You have argued an alternative view very persuasively.

    @ Real Nick Moderating of comments is outsourced at considerable expense. Sometimes the rush of posts makes perfect choices of what is accepted and what is not extremely problematic, if not impossible. The aim, as I see it, is to allow all views as long as they are argued fairly, intelligently and relevantly and junk those that are vindictive, irrelevent, socially unacceptable (eg racist) or illegal. We are committed to trying to develop such an atmosphere, widening debate yet seeking minimum standards from all of us, wriyters or respondents. I also get to see the comments which are junked (not many on this occasion as it happens) so I see the comments at their worst as well as their best.

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