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May 16, 2014
Ian Bell believes Alastair Cook will continue to show a tougher side to his captaincy as he learns from the experiences of the winter. While much around Cook has changed, including the head coach, he has kept his position in the one-day and Test sides but has spoken about having to forge a team in his own style.
Cook has previously admitted he began to doubt himself during the one-day series in Australia - he floated the suggestion of giving up the captaincy before back-tracking, blaming emotion, but has since said, in an interview with the Times that they were serious thoughts - but a combination of support from team-mates and a break from the international scene while T20 dominated has allowed him a fresh outlook.
Despite the victory in India in late 2012, in his first series as captain, and last year's Ashes victory on home soil, Bell conceded that the team had, perhaps, been in the shadow of what Andrew Strauss had forged and that the dramatic reversals of the last six months having forced the players to move on.
Early signs of Cook ploughing his own furrow have come with the axing of Graham Gooch, his longer-term mentor, as the official Test batting coach (although he will remain involved with a number of batsmen, including Bell) and after avoiding a slip-up in Scotland the one-day series against Sri Lanka, which starts next Thursday, will mark a return to spotlight.
"I think he will have learnt a lot from Australia. That could be a great thing for him," Bell said. "At the time you think it's the worst thing ever but hopefully he'll have learnt about himself but also the direction he wants the team to go in.
"There's no doubt the team at that point probably still felt a bit like Straussy's side, I think now this is a real line in the sand that he can say 'this is my team'. A lot of the time as a player you learn a lot more from your mistakes in a bad series than you do in a good series. This could be the start of him becoming a great captain for England.
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"I'm sure over time he will be harder on the players. He's made some big decisions and that's a good sign. It's what people have been asking him to do. I'm sure we'll see more of that. He knows the way we want to be playing our cricket and we didn't see that in Australia and maybe that has given him the chance to see which way he wants to take the team."
Bell will have a vital role to play for Cook in both formats that they share the same side: in Test cricket, where he sits on 98 caps, he is now one of the senior batsmen, in the absence of Kevin Pietersen and Jonathan Trott, while in one-day cricket the pair have forged a successful opening partnership.
After the one-off T20, in which Bell hopes to make a return to the format, the attention will shift to the 50-over game for a couple of weeks with less than a year to go until the World Cup. The recall of Michael Carberry has opened the possibility of a reshuffle at the top of the order, but Bell feels he has finally reached his potential in the last two years of opening.
"I've averaged over 40, probably the best I've played ODI cricket," he said. "Before I was very inconsistent, not only in my runs but where I was batting in the order. Me and Cooky seem a good partnership; without Trotty at No. 3 there may be some jiggling there I don't know, and no Kev as well. I learnt a lot from our last one-day series in Australia and hopefully I will be that guy opening the batting, or in the top three, that can get us off to good starts."
There continues to be much debate about the make-up of England's top order, the pace they play at and the reluctance to introduce a more attacking player - such as Alex Hales - but remains adamant that the incumbents can provide the style of batting needed in Australia.
"I think we have to have two gameplans. In English conditions it will do a bit so we have to get the platform right, but that doesn't mean blocking it or leaving the ball. The same in Australia, it doesn't mean we have to slog. It means playing proper cricket shots with intent, scoring off lots of balls.
"It doesn't have to be like Chris Gayle, going 100 yards each time, but we can find out way. For us it's about a platform because we know our middle and lower order is powerful and can hurt any team in the world."
Investec, the specialist bank and asset manager, is the title sponsor of Test match cricket in England. Visit investec.co.uk/cricket or follow us @InvestecCricket
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Andrew McGlashan
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