Sri Lanka in England, 2013-14

Cook can draw 'line in the sand' - Bell

Andrew McGlashan

May 16, 2014

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Ian Bell plays through the leg side, Scotland v England, only ODI, Aberdeen, May 9, 2014
Ian Bell: 'I learnt a lot from our last one-day series in Australia and hopefully I will be that guy opening the batting that can get us off to good starts' © Getty Images
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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.

Swann leaves the biggest hole - Bell

  • Graeme Swann will be the toughest of England's absent senior players to replace in the Test side according to Ian Bell.
  • He acknowledged the matchwinning capabilities of Kevin Pietersen, but said that Swann's presence in the bowling attack gave them a balance which will be tough to replicate.

  • "Without Swanny it will change the dynamics of our team a lot," he said. "We could come to Lord's with three seamers and if we wanted Swanny to hold an end up he could do that which takes a lot of skill. He could also then revert to bowling teams out on the last day, too.

  • "They are world class cricketers and have been for a number of years, but maybe you look at how good Swanny was at Test cricket and replacing him with another spinner is going to take some time."

"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."

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Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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Posted by R_U_4_REAL_NICK on (May 18, 2014, 14:00 GMT)

Wise words there from Bell; it's a relief to see England are starting to realise that different game plans/tactics are needed in different countries / on different pitches / against different opposition. The steady, grafting approach (dubbed attritional cricket by detractors) is needed here in UK where the ball moves a lot through the air and off the pitches; but in the drier, bouncier places like Australia and South Africa, there's no doubt that Australia have shown us that aggressive/attacking play works.

Cook is a good batsman and a nice guy. Some decent runs off his bat will restore form/confidence not only for himself, but the whole team. It's high time Cook et al. threw away the 'Strauss textbook on Captaincy' and create their own. I also feel Cook needs to communicate/support his players more in the field. In many games, he has cut a forlorn figure standing with his arms crossed in the slips or wherever; I just think he needs to lose that petulance and enjoy games again.

Posted by serious-am-i on (May 18, 2014, 10:57 GMT)

if Cook becomes a good captain, I pity on the game's future, as that would mean all the opposing captains have become miserable. A good batsman need not be a good captain, Cook falls in the same category. Honestly speaking.. I'm unable to select anyone as captain in the current English side. Bopara seems to have a good head but he himself isn't consistent in the ODI's, so let's not even talk about his prospects of a test career.

Posted by andrew-schulz on (May 18, 2014, 7:17 GMT)

Landl47 England don't do whitewashes on Australia. Not since 1886 in a 3-match series. Certainly not now. Australia could lose 6 quicks and still have no one in their side as bad as Boyd Rankin, Chris Tremlett, or Stephen Finn. Heck, Australia's tenth best quick is probably better than Bresnan. Over the next five years you will find that it is all about depth, my friend. Very lucky to get as close as you did last summer.

Posted by dunger.bob on (May 18, 2014, 6:34 GMT)

I didn't think Bell was interested in the captaincy. Didn't I read that somewhere only a little while ago? .. If Bell doesn't want to be a captain I can't see the point in forcing him. Declining on the grounds that you have absolutely no desire is a more honourable way to go then take it on because everyone expects then fail monumentally and set your team back another few years.

@ land47: Good to hear about your left arm slowie. Every team needs a spinner. .. did you know we've got 3 young leggies rolling their arms over at the moment. Murhead, Zampa and the other bloke whose name escapes me. All in the early 20's and looking very promising across a range of formats. .. Exciting years ahead I'd say.

Posted by Rufus_Fuddleduck on (May 18, 2014, 3:58 GMT)

So true deedeeess .... Cook thinks of himself as a lawyer, entitled to "practice" all his life and one of these days his skills will develop. Bell will retire as the most promising talent to have come out of England after maybe Derek Randall ... all others in the interim either didn't have it or did something with it!! Stepping back from the Ashes, after all these months, nothing seems to have come of it except a rather un-gentle dismantling of the old guard. Of course two home series can perk up any team but then Downton and Cook are looking at building a base for a decade .... and there's precious little in word or action. Granted not everyone can be intelligent but then something somewhere has to penetrate dumb skulls like mine. When o when is the rebuilding coming forth?

Posted by landl47 on (May 18, 2014, 1:59 GMT)

@FFLNAH: I want to see a competitive contest next year, too, so dare I say it, I hope Johnson and Harris can stay fit for Australia. If those two are out, you might be looking at a reverse whitewash.

I'm not sure whether he'll be ready during Cook's captaincy, but Middlesex has a young left-arm spinner called Ravi Patel who looks the best prospect I've seen for 6 years (since Swann debuted). He has a quick arm like almost all good spinners (Warne, Ajmal, Murali and Swann himself, to name a few) so he is difficult to pick. His control is good and he already has good variations. He's only 22 and has played a handful of FC games, so it's way too early to start boosting him as an England player, but unlike so many of the county spinners he really does look like a top prospect. Watch out for him over the next few years.

Posted by   on (May 17, 2014, 21:27 GMT)

Strikingly selfless remarks from one who, to my mind, should already have been named England captain over Cook, and whom I'd like to see in that role for the next couple of years.

Posted by deedeeess on (May 17, 2014, 14:26 GMT)

Cook has played over a hundred test matches and been the English test captain for almost two years now. Perhaps instead of wondering about whether Cook will be become a great captain, Bell should be more worried about whether he will ever become an adequate one. If it were Graeme Smith in his early 20s, I would understand all the allowances being made, but Cook has no such excuse. The real concern is that his failings as a captain were apparent last summer in the home Ashes series, but he, and England were lucky enough for them to be papered over. He was cruelly exposed over the winter and it was not so much that his plans failed; rather that he had none.

Posted by MiddleStumpMike on (May 17, 2014, 13:05 GMT)

Interesting times, certainly, regarding Cook's captaincy as other posters have pointed out.

Will it flower in a, perhaps, less claustrophobic atmosphere or will it be a case of Bambi in the headlights at the first real sign of difficulty? If it's the latter Downton, Cook and others have nailed, glued and riveted their colours to the mast over this and expect more carnage.

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Andrew McGlashanClose
Andrew McGlashan Assistant Editor Andrew arrived at ESPNcricinfo via Manchester and Cape Town, after finding the assistant editor at a weak moment as he watched England's batting collapse in the Newlands Test. Andrew began his cricket writing as a freelance covering Lancashire during 2004 when they were relegated in the County Championship. In fact, they were top of the table when he began reporting on them but things went dramatically downhill. He likes to let people know that he is a supporter of county cricket, a fact his colleagues will testify to and bemoan in equal quantities.
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