Ian Bell feels at home again
When Ian Bell last played an ODI for England, both he and the team were very different beasts. On the tour of India in November 2008, Bell limped to a total of 84 runs in four straight defeats, and was dropped ahead of the fifth (and as it turned out, final) match in Cuttack, a decision which had no impact whatsoever on the result.
Twenty months down the line, and Bell is back in harness, part of an England one-day squad that has won three series on the bounce, including the notable scalps of South Africa and Australia, and is now well on the way to a fourth in a row, if a sweat-free six-wicket win over Bangladesh is anything to go by. And while an easy 84 not out from 101 balls proves little in isolation, the unflappability of the performance was in keeping with the current team ethos.
"I think from the Tests through to Twenty20s, there's a real confidence about the side, and a lot of it overlaps so you feed off it," said Bell. "Coming into this squad and being around for the Australia series was fantastic. It was very easy to slot in because of the confidence that everyone has. It felt as normal as it did to go into the Test matches, and I think it's spreading over all forms of the game."
Bell knows his place in the side is not for keeps, not yet at any rate. Kevin Pietersen is being rested for this series, and with Paul Collingwood and Eoin Morgan also assured of their places in the first-choice middle-order, he is likely to make way when the stiffer challenge of Pakistan arrives in September. But he slotted into the side as if he had never been away, which is no mean feat for a player once derided for his timidity.
"I felt confident in my ability to go out and play and I've been working as hard as I can with Warwickshire on playing spin bowlers and hitting boundaries in the middle overs," Bell said. "Hopefully that's what I've put in [to effect] here - the hard work over the last 12 months. Andy Flower spoke to me about a few things when he left me out of the side last year, mainly about playing spinners in the middle overs, and it's started to pay off."
Bell confirmed he's in a fine vein of form with a hard-hitting 158 for England Lions against India A earlier in the week, but he wasn't required to showcase many of his new-found strokes on this occasion, as England sauntered to victory with 29 balls to spare. "I know where I am in this squad and I have to keep knocking on the door and working hard," he said. "It was just a matter of playing the situation and that's what we needed to do, but it was nice to have the opportunity to go out and score some runs."
Andrew Strauss, whose own freedom of expression was showcased in a 37-ball fifty, was delighted with the performance of his team-mate. "The great thing with Belly is he can pretty much bat anywhere in the order, he's a pretty versatile cricketer," said Strauss. "When you see him play innings like today, the top of the order seems like the more logical place for him to play, but he plays the spinners well, to so to come in lower down is not an issue.
"That's part of the reason why he has forced his way back into the squad. he is adaptable and he's playing in a more aggressive manner that puts opposition players under pressure."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo