England v India, 2nd ODI, Rose Bowl

Bell building towards ODI future

Andrew Miller

September 5, 2011

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Ian Bell with a shirt of Aston Villa football club signifying his highest Test score, Birmingham, August 27, 2011
Ian Bell has proven he is good at building an innings, and wants to take that skill into ODI cricket © PA Photos
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Players/Officials: Ian Bell
Series/Tournaments: India tour of England
Teams: England | India

Now that they have achieved one of their stated goals - that of becoming the No. 1 team in Test cricket - England's next challenge is to emulate that achievement in the one-day arena. But if one batsman epitomises the problem of translating such success across formats, it is Ian Bell, whose silken batting in Tests has been one of the major reasons for England's recent rise, but whose role in the shortened versions of the game remains up in the air.

Bell has played in just seven of England's 38 Twenty20s (and did not feature in last week's one-off at Old Trafford), while his one-day career includes two World Cup campaigns but just one century in 103 appearances. That solitary score came on India's last tour of England in 2007 - at the Rose Bowl, no less - when he and Alastair Cook added 178 for the second wicket in a comprehensive victory. However, an overall average of 34.48, and a strike-rate of 72.69, provide damning evidence of his shortcomings to date.

The current India series, in Bell's opinion, is a chance to start making amends. Kevin Pietersen's absence has created a vacancy at No. 4 which, he believes, will suit his accumulative style much better than was the case earlier in the season, when he was inked in at No. 6 against Sri Lanka, with a licence to play his shots, but made 81 runs from 117 balls all told.

"I was desperate to give it a good go, but I didn't feel I had done it as well as I possibly could have done," he admitted. "The majority of the time I [was going] in with 15 overs to go and had to work on scoring boundaries from ball one. I'm not the kind of guy who is going to hit the ball into a few rows back, and I have to go over extra cover, or whatever, and use the skills that I have and find boundaries that way."

Part of the problem for England at present is that they have too many players who need to build up a head of steam - such as Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott, who are bankers in the top three - and too few who are capable of raising the run-rate from a standing start. In the right conditions Craig Kieswetter can do just that, although he has struggled with the moving ball, while Ben Stokes hasn't yet had a chance to strut his stuff.

Only Eoin Morgan has the proven versatility to cope with all situations than arise in 50-over cricket, but given the fluency of his Test run-making, Bell ought to be capable of making the necessary adjustments. "I try to learn off Morgs in how he plays the spinners and scores boundaries off the front and back foot," he said. "I want to be a cricketer improving all the time in one-dayers and Test cricket so you have to learn and be open to new things. The game is going forward all the time and you have to stay with it."

His stated preference, however, is to be allowed the time to "go through the gears", as he puts it. "I can still hit sixes. I can do it against spinners in Test matches so I can do it in a ODI, but if you are coming in late, you actually [have to be] able to clear your leg, which is not something I grew up doing," he said. "I grew up trying to get a nice cover-drive and play Test cricket, whereas young lads now grow up looking at Twenty20 and hitting the ball, and that becomes a lot easier to them to do that, rather than someone who grew up looking to play Test cricket."

That is where the likes of Stokes, Alex Hales and Jos Buttler - all of whom have turned professional since the advent of Twenty20 cricket - have the change to steal a march on their elder colleagues. "You can see the skills they come in with now," said Bell. "They have more skills than batters ten years ago would have. The little sweeps with fine-leg up, to clearing your leg is, I guess, just what modern cricketers grow up with. We are working on it and I'm desperate to improve in my one-day cricket because that's what you are going to have to do - that's the way it's going."

That need to get down and dirty is something that Bell has been actively practising since the end of the Test campaign, but ultimately, he wants to be able to stick to what he knows best. As Mahela Jayawardene has demonstrated throughout a brilliant one-day career, there is a place for graceful shot-making in the shorter form of the game. All that matters is the speed at which the scoreboard ticks over, not the speed at which the ball sails to the boundary.

"Speaking to Goochy, there are different ways to score runs," he said. "You can pick the ball over midwicket or you can lift it over extra cover. There are a lot of shots. There is no point me trying to become something I'm not. I have to play to my strengths. I have to pick the gap like I do in Test cricket.

"We're all trying to score at a run a ball. Andy Flower pushes us hard to score at a run a ball. With the spinners on, we want to score off every ball bowled and push down the number of dot balls in the innings. That would be a perfect day, but you're not going to have every day like that. A goal of ours in the middle overs is to score off as many balls as possible. If we can achieve that, we'll score more runs and be a better one-day side."

Despite 10 series wins in their last 12 bilateral campaigns, England's ODI team is still very much a work in progress. However, Bell is excited about their prospects in the coming months and years, and believes that Jade Dernbach's emergence has added an extra dimension to their bowling.

"We're trying everything we can to improve," he said. "Watching the Twenty20 the other day, it looks like we've got some players who can really bowl well at the back end, and when we go to India, the reverse-swinging ball and slower balls become so important. It looks like we've got an attack which can do that, which is a massive improvement already.

"We're targeting to become one of the better fielding teams in the world," he added. "We're desperate to do it. As with Tests, the group is hungry for improvement and success. If we keep that, I'm hoping it will be exactly the same as in Tests."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

RSS Feeds: Andrew Miller

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by AJ_Tiger86 on (September 7, 2011, 7:27 GMT)

@RandyOZ: Bell has nowhere near reached peak yet. He will continue his peak form for at least the next 4 years. He has been averaging almost 100 in the last couple of years -- and that average is going up and up all the time, not down. The recent series against India and Sri Lanka are clear indications that he is getting better all the time. If they give him a settled spot at no. 3 or no. 4, the sky is the limit for him. And although Bell is about 800 behind Ponting at 29, and Ponting had massive 2005 and 2006 -- Bell's 2010 and 2011 are as good as Ponting's peak years -- so he can replicate them. And don't forget Ponting had relatively poor 2004, 2007, 2008 and horrible 2009 and 2010. Ponting's captaincy records are not relevant in the discussion about who the better batsman is. Cook will probably take care of that one. And while Bell won't win 3 world cups, he will probably win more Ashes series than Ponting -- Ponting has 5 and Bell already has 3 with at least 4 more to play.

Posted by RandyOZ on (September 7, 2011, 1:33 GMT)

@Sir_Freddie_Flintoff, a.) Ian Bell, at 29, is about 800 runs behind Ponting at the same age and Punter hadn't even had his massive 05 and 06 years yet. Bell has peaked and is only headnig down from here. b.) Bell's ODI form is embarassing at best, deplorable at worst - 3000 runs in over 100 ODIs. Come back when you have something to stand on - ie: most wins as captain, most wins ever, 3 world cups, 3rd highest run scorer ever. He's not even close to Ponting and will start failing once again VERY soon.

Posted by AJ_Tiger86 on (September 6, 2011, 18:31 GMT)

@RandyOZ: In case you forgot, Ricky Ponting is an "absolute bunny and has terrible form against" Harbhajan Singh. Bell averages 23.20 against Warne and got dismissed 5 times in 10 matches against him. Ponting averages 22.30 against Harbhajan and got dismissed 10 times in 14 matches against him. And yes, Ian Bell is a better batsman than Ponting and will end his career with more test runs and centuries.

Posted by me54321 on (September 6, 2011, 8:21 GMT)

I'm not sure about Bell in ODIs, as whenever I watch him being forced to up the scoring, he hasn't looked comfortable. This has been true when he's batted with the tail in tests as well. This is a bit strange, as when he just plays with an attacking mindset in tests he will frequently score at more than a run a ball for short periods. It just seems from watching him when he is forced to do it, he starts going for big heaves, which he really isn't very good at. I'm a big a fan of his, and was even a fan when we were all waiting for him to turn into the player he is now, but he just hasn't looked the part in the one dayers even when he's been higher up the order. He's got the talent, and I guess he knows what he's got to do, so hopefully he'll get it done.

Posted by Jaijo on (September 6, 2011, 7:20 GMT)

He is from which country?? England actually should be called rest of the world team. Filled with South Africa, Zimbabwe, Ireland, Indian, Pakistan, Tunisis, Uganda and who knows from which all part of the world. Still they call themselves very English... LOL

Posted by NRI- on (September 6, 2011, 6:59 GMT)

Too much adaptation and improvisation is not good. Batsmen like Dravid, Bell, Cook and Laxman show how specialising in the long game has made them great at it whilst others who play all three formats have not done as well. England, if you want to preserve your no1 status, keep Bell, Cook and Trott out of the ODI and 20-20 forms of the game and you will keep 3 of the best 6 test batsmen in the world in that slot.

Posted by Cr1cket_Lover on (September 6, 2011, 4:38 GMT)

England begin a quest towards #1 on the ODI list; India will serve as a good stepping stone. The way our team is playing, and with injuries to players like Rohit, we stand no chance. Anything other than a 4-0 whitewash should be construed as a victory for India. As a matter of fact, I hope we lose in the ODIs so we can re-build and prepare our team of tomorrow. Time to let some of the seniors who have served our country well go do something else, while building up to the next WC.

Posted by RandyOZ on (September 6, 2011, 4:30 GMT)

Many forget Bell was an absolute bunny and had terrible form against Warne, he was just lucky their careers didn't coincide or he would be the new Cullinan. For some poms to talk of Bell in the same light as Punter and Lara is bordering on insanity.

Posted by FreddyForPrimeMinister on (September 6, 2011, 1:43 GMT)

Bell would make a perfect no.3 in ODIs but that means he plays at the expense of Trott, whose strike rate is simply not good enough. Bell's is historically poor too but I believe that with his new-found confidence he is capable of improving that markedly - which I don't believe Trott can. I'm happy with Trott at 3 in Tests, even though Bell could do a perfect job there too but contrary to the belief of many, I don't believe there is a place in modern ODIs for a batsman simply to bat through an innings with a strike rate of 78/100, expecting new batsmen to come in and have to score at over a run a ball without having any time to get their eye in. Surely the batsman who is already set should up the scoring rate while the new batsman is given time to settle in? It's the same crazy logic as a nightwatchman coming in to protect the established batsman at the other end from the strike. Why should a no.10 who's just come in have a better chance to defend his wicket than a no.3 who's on 80no??

Posted by Tom-T on (September 5, 2011, 23:12 GMT)

I think he's a perfect number 3, in all forms of the game. I know they won't want to mess about too much now that Trott has had so much success there, but it really ought to be Bell. I've been a critic of his for years, but his recent success has given his game a confidence and arrogance that was missing before - he really looks the part now. I hope they don't waste his talent by continuing the shove him in at 6 in ODIs, he deserves better. Potentially the best number 3 since Ponting, I reckon.

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Andrew Miller Andrew Miller was saved from a life of drudgery in the City when his car caught fire on the way to an interview. He took this as a sign and fled to Pakistan where he witnessed England's historic victory in the twilight at Karachi (or thought he did, at any rate - it was too dark to tell). He then joined Wisden Online in 2001, and soon graduated from put-upon photocopier to a writer with a penchant for comment and cricket on the subcontinent. In addition to Pakistan, he has covered England tours in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, as well as the World Cup in the Caribbean in 2007
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