Bell steadies England with timely contribution
Ian Bell's success during the winter tours to South Africa and Bangladesh revived a career that was threatening to be stalled again. Yet, given the competition for England's batting places, his name has been mentioned among those under pressure to cement his place again this summer.
It is no bad thing for players to be constantly on their toes. It should avoid complacency when they know there are others lurking over their shoulders desperate for a chance to impress. Paul Collingwood will return for the Test series against Pakistan and one of these top six will have to make way. No batsman wants to be the one with a recent failure next to their name, so Bell's unbeaten 87 on the opening day at Old Trafford was timely.
"There's still a lot of competition for places, especially with the batting, so you have to keep yourself in good form and get as many runs as possible," Bell said. "It's a good place for us to be as a squad. I feel massively part of the side, and always have done, but you have to keep working hard.
"It's a good position for both Andys especially with Morgs [Eoin Morgan] coming in, someone who has a massive future, to have seven batters to pick from and probably more. There are guys doing well in domestic cricket who are knocking on the door as well."
Bell is one of the squad that has prepared for this series in county cricket rather than the Caribbean, but his domestic results weren't outstanding - much the same as Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook - as he averaged 30.77 in five matches for Warwickshire. He also missed out at Lord's when he received a decent ball from Rubel Hossain that nipped back between bat and pad.
Bell has batted in more pressurised scenarios than he faced here at 83 for 3 - Cape Town in January springs to mind - but it was a good moment for him to reacquaint himself with a Bangladesh attack that has proved a rich source of runs. Following his 17 at Lord's, Bell's average plummeted from the heady heights of 244 (having previously been 350) to 168.33; now it is back at 197.33 and may well tip 200 again tomorrow.
Given the winter Bell enjoyed, where his 140 at Kingsmead was followed by a match-saving 213-ball 78 in Cape Town, plus 138 in Dhaka when England were in a spot of bother, and where he was the sole century-maker in an innings for the first time, he would have been within his rights to feel pretty secure. Yet the doubters aren't going to be satisfied until he corrects his record against Australia, against whom he has scored at a modest average of 25.70.
"I missed out at Lord's and the situation demanded someone got stuck in," Bell said. "Not scoring runs when the team needs them is the criticism that has hung over me and hopefully over the last six months I have done something towards playing more of those innings that people want from me.
"I needed it on a personal note as well. I've played some nice innings but maybe not when it mattered. Certainly if I get the chance in Australia I have the experience to dig in when the team needs it."
As with his hundred in Dhaka, the runs here will include that invisible footer of being "only against Bangladesh" but England needed his contribution. Whereas Bell concentrated hard and didn't try anything too flamboyant, the top-order didn't cover themselves in glory with a display that came across as lazy.
Strauss and Cook prodded to slip and Kevin Pietersen couldn't control himself as he had a wild mow at Shakib Al Hasan. Jonathan Trott can be partly exonerated as he received a decent ball and Bell was quick to defend Pietersen's approach, which he felt played a key role in giving England the edge on a pitch that offered much more turn than expected.
"From my point of view I'm trying to play spin as positively as possible, I'm a better player when I'm positive and I thought Kev was fantastic to get us the momentum back, which was important," he said. "He really gave us the chance to put Bangladesh on the back foot.
"It turned big and that's how Kev was playing. When you are playing like that it can go either way, but leading up to that he shifted the momentum which is what we needed because we could have dug ourselves a hole."
Even though Pietersen's dashing effort helped England restore order it needed someone to carry on that work. Bell was again that man and the more occasions he helps the team out of difficulty, the harder it will be for people to suggest he doesn't belong at this level.
Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo