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Bell calls for batting revival

Andrew McGlashan

June 9, 2014

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Ian Bell was named England's 2013-14 Player of the Year, Lord's, June 9, 2014
Ian Bell was named England's Player of the Year for his Ashes returns last summer © Getty Images
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Ian Bell, who has been named England's Player of the Year, has demanded an improvement in the team's "limp" batting returns over the last year as they prepare to resume Test cricket against Sri Lanka.

Bell's three Ashes hundreds in 2013 feel a lifetime ago for English cricket, given what has gone on since, but they were the key reason why he secured the award ahead of Stuart Broad and Joe Root.

The timeframe covered runs from the beginning of the 2013 English season to the end of the recent World T20 and Bell's performances in the home Ashes, where he became just the third England batsman, and first since David Gower in 1985, to score three hundreds in a home series against Australia, propelled him ahead of Broad, who was one of the few players to emerge from the 5-0 whitewash in the return Ashes with any credit.

Bell's 562 runs in the five home Tests carried a batting order for which a malaise was already setting in and would go on to be exposed in dramatic fashion during the series in Australia. England have not posted 400 in a Test innings since facing New Zealand, in Wellington, last March - 13 Tests ago. In Australia, they only managed to reach 300 twice and both of those occasions, in Adelaide and Perth, were when the Test was long gone.

"We need to get back to the scores that give our bowlers the best chance of taking 20 wickets," Bell said. "We've been a bit limp in the batting department for a while so it is about time we got back to basics with putting scores on the board.

"You're looking for the senior players to lead the way, so of course myself and Cooky have to shoulder plenty of responsibility in that department. We are the men who have been there and done it and scored the big hundreds, so it is time for us to do so again. It feels good delivering out in the middle when you know that people are expecting you to score runs.

"It is not good enough to get to 50 or 60 and think your job is done. You've got to kick on and produce a big hundred. I've got no doubt we can take 20 wickets at home so it is up to the batsmen to put the score on the board that gives our bowlers what they need in time and volume."

The period covered by the award included 12 Test matches - two against New Zealand and 10 against Australia - and Bell's struggles in Australia, where he averaged 26.11, pulled his overall average down 39.54, although he insisted he continued to feel in good form throughout the bombing by Mitchell Johnson.

"It is a good reminder of what we did back then, and although it was a disappointing winter it is nice to get some recognition for what happened before that," said Bell, who along with Michael Clarke was the only batsman to hit 1000 Test runs in 2013. "It felt like a good year with the bat for me and even in Australia I still felt in decent nick. I'm hitting the ball as well as I ever have in an England shirt. Hopefully this is the start of something special for me and the team, helping some of these young guys through."

Fitness permitting, Bell will play his 100th Test against Sri Lanka at Headingley next week - nearly 10 years after making his debut against West Indies at The Oval. He is now part of a smaller senior core of the England team alongside Alastair Cook, Stuart Broad, James Anderson and the recalled Matt Prior after the losses, over the winter for various reasons, of Kevin Pietersen, Jonathan Trott and Graeme Swann.

"Now is a good time for us to take the team forward," Bell said. "It feels like an exciting challenge, being a leader in the group. It is a different situation for us all. Over the past five or six years the team has been so settled with guys playing a lot of cricket with each other and suddenly this is a new place with new goals.

"Even being around the one-day squad, all the new faces have brought some excitement. It is up to me and the other four experienced players to pass on some information and help them through it. It is all well and good talking about the game and what is required, but we've got to walk the walk too and show the newer players what is expected."

Prior was the previous recipient of this award, but just days after being named he bagged a pair against New Zealand at Lord's at the beginning of what became a lean summer and his troubles extended into the away Ashes where he was eventually dropped. Bell, however, is not the superstitious type.

"I certainly hope to buck that trend," he said. "I hope I don't go the same way. I know Matt had a tough time last year, but that is probably more to do with the fact he had played so well for so long beforehand. I'm sure there will be a laugh and a joke about it in the dressing room later about that, but I don't believe in curses."

Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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Posted by jackiethepen on (June 11, 2014, 13:22 GMT)

Some ludicrous things said about Bell v Key and Ramps. At 50 odd Tests Bell had 8 centuries and averaged 40. He was dropped. Ramps same number of Tests had 2 centuries and averaged about 30. Bell came back in 2009 and since then has averaged 50 and got 12 more centuries. As for Key he hasn't even had that good a record in FC cricket. His team has been in Div 2 for years and he still averages 41 compared to Bell's 46.

As for post 2005 Ashes, Bell was the leading run scorer in Pakistan (yes KP was in the team) on Tour in 2005 and got a classy century against tough bowling opposition. That's why you call a comeback. It's that ability (he was still a rookie) which stands out now. As Tom Moody says, Bell has had a great career and he's still only 32, what's the problem with his critics? All the moaning about Key and Ramps. They did have their chances. Test cricketers are not easy to come by. Let's hope England find a few more.

Posted by landl47 on (June 10, 2014, 12:54 GMT)

Key was somewhat unlucky, but an average of 31 with 1 century and 3 50s in 15 tests doesn't make a great case for saying he would have had a good test career. As for comparing him with Bell, since Key has played 277 FC games with only 15 tests and Bell 239 with 98 tests, if they were of equal ability you'd expect Key to have the better FC average. Instead, Key's FC average is 41.05 and Bell's is 46.10, a full five runs per innings better. Bell's test average is more than 4 runs per innings better than Key's FC average. No contest at all as to which is the better player.

Posted by SirViv1973 on (June 10, 2014, 12:26 GMT)

@Landl47, I agree with most of what you have say regarding the contest between the 2 sides. Eng should hold the advantage in the seam depart & with no recognised spinner you would expect the surfaces to favor seam bowling. I can also imagine SRL more inexperienced batsman struggling against some decent seam/swing bowling. SRL only world class bowler is Herath & you wouldn't expect him to enjoy bowling on the types of surfaces we are likley to get. However we probably shouldn't forget how Swann tore the NZL apart on the last day at Leeds last year and either pitch starts to wear and turn towards the end of either match Herath will be a handful. Looking forward to the Ind series, they should be a tougher test. They should be better prepared than they were 3 years ago and some of their younger batsman are a lot more expirenced, they should also have better seamers than SRL. Surfaces may also turn more later in the summer if its stays dry which would bring Ashwin & jadeja into play.

Posted by steve48 on (June 10, 2014, 12:13 GMT)

Bell was great last summer, but wilted under the team malaise in Oz, although he ironically looked more at home against big Mitch than against Steve Smith! Should have seen HIMSELF as a senior player some time ago, and played and acted accordingly. I would have given the award to Stokes for what I thought was a great effort amidst the chaos of the senior players' demises. Only 4 tests, I know, but what a situation to have found himself in. Many would have sank without trace, many of a lot more experience did! No, he is not the new Botham, yet anyway, but I really admired his fight and application whilst others lost theirs.

Posted by anver777 on (June 10, 2014, 8:28 GMT)

I also believe Eng batsmen should bat long innings vs SL to get that old rhythm back. without KP the batters have more responsibilities now !!! Anyway its gonna be a close battle between two teams !!!

Posted by yorkshire-86 on (June 10, 2014, 6:51 GMT)

Ramps had plenty of chances - he is statistically the worst ever batsmen from a non minnow team to play the game for more than 50 Tests. Key averaged well under 20 excluding that one lucky innings against Aus.

Posted by CodandChips on (June 10, 2014, 5:57 GMT)

I think they should have cancelled the award on the basis that the England cricket team played so badly through the year and nobody was consistent enough to merit the award. Does Bell really merit it for just 1 series?

Agree with the comments below that Bell has had a lot of chances. But credit where credit is due he was awesome in late 2010 and 2011 but didn't receive the same praise as Cook, Trott, Prior.

Posted by notimeforcricket on (June 10, 2014, 5:16 GMT)

Mr Patchmaster forgets that Ramprakash was given an enormous number of chances. It is a terrible shame that he never got it right consistently at Test level but the England selectors gave him plenty of opportunities. Bell has been dropped a few times and has come back. His average has always been close to or above 40. Ramprakash was under 30. I agree Rob Key should have been given more chances. I suspect there was a personality issue there. but it is too late for him now.

Posted by Patchmaster on (June 10, 2014, 2:50 GMT)

Bell has just had about twenty more chances than anyone else ever had in an ENG shirt. If Rob Key or other similar players had been given as many chances, then they'd have probably done better than Bell, it's hard to imagine Ramprakash scoring fewer runs than Bell, if he'd have had the same amount of chances for example.

Posted by landl47 on (June 10, 2014, 1:52 GMT)

England will be depending on Bell to be the steadying factor in a young side. As such I don't think I'd have him batting at #3, even though he's the batsman best suited to it. Ballance or Root should come in first drop, with Bell at #4, the other of B/R at #5, Moeen #6, Prior #7 and then the seamers. Woakes, Plunkett, Broad and Jordan can all bat, so only Anderson is sure what his place will be. Woakes might well be carrying the drinks again in the first test.

Whereas I gave SL a slight edge in the ODIs, which proved to be right, I think England has a better balanced side for the tests, with deeper batting and better seamers. It would be surprising if spin is a major factor in the tests, so SL's stronger spin attack will be somewhat neutralised. If England's batsmen can put up competitive scores, England should win the series provided the weather doesn't interfere. 1-0 to England plus a rain-affected draw is my prediction.

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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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