England news May 10, 2014

Bell must shape new England

Ian Bell's fifty against Scotland, and the match as a whole, will not linger long in the memory but calmness and maturity were just what England needed
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Ian Bell's breakthrough innings did not come against South Africa. It did not come against Australia. It did not even come against Sussex. It came against Shropshire.

It was May 2004. Bell was 22 years old and, though his talent was undoubted, his lack of progress was beginning to frustrate the management at Edgbaston. John Inverarity, at the time the Warwickshire director of cricket, even considered dropping Bell from a strong battling unit that was struggling to find room for the abundance of talent the club possessed at the time. "It's all very well having talent," Inverarity said in exasperation at the time, "at some stage you have to shape games."

As it was, the team that contested that second round game of the Cheltenham and Gloucester Trophy did not contain either Michael Powell or Jim Troughton and Bell was given another chance to prove himself.

He responded with a Man-of-the-Match winning performance. On a damp, two-paced wicket which reduced every other batsman to ugly swipes and ineffective heaves - Nick Knight, at the time arguably the most successful ODI batsman England had ever had, battled his way to an unbeaten 22 from 57 balls - Bell timed the ball with a grace granted to very few and made an elegant, unbeaten 58 from 37 balls. While he caressed 12 boundaries, his team-mates contributed just six between them. He looked a class apart.

With confidence - and position - restored, he went on to score an unbeaten 262 against a strong Sussex attack a couple of weeks later. It was an innings that gained the attention of the selectors and the media and, by the end of the summer, Bell was playing Test cricket. Sometimes, what seems trivial at the time can have far grander consequences.

There were echoes of that innings against Shropshire in Bell's half-century against Scotland. While the bowling was not especially demanding, the pitch conditions were. No-one else in the match made a half-century; no-one else timed the ball as sweetly. This was a situation that had all the ingredients for an upset - the shortened match, the damp pitch and sodden outfield, the tension of a team beaten more often than a snare drum finding their way under a new coach - but thanks to Bell's class and calm head, the accident was averted.

It says much for Bell's limited-overs career that he became, during his innings in Aberdeen, the second highest run-scorer in England's ODI history but that for most of that career, his place in the limited-overs teams has been questioned. Perhaps because of the apparent ease with which the runs have flowed, more is often expected of him. But since his return to the ODI side in the summer of 2012 his record - 1,451 runs at an average of 46.80 - is excellent.

We should not have been surprised by Bell's contribution in Aberdeen. The days when he might be considered a luxury player - pretty but inconsequential - are long gone. If he had not proved his backbone with defiant contributions in South Africa, he surely did so with his Man-of-the-Series winning efforts in the Ashes of 2013.

Bell would be the first to admit that his reputation was forged, in part, on the back of some pretty runs on flat tracks. As he put it following his Championship century against Sussex a few weeks ago: "In my early days, maybe I scored a lot of nice runs that looked good on the eye but really didn't change the course of the game. But in the last two, three or four years, I've started to score those [important] runs a lot more often. The way last summer went against Australia really gave me a lot of confidence - I came in at 20 for 3 a lot."

Now with most of the senior figures of the England dressing room gone - Andy Flower, Graeme Swann, Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen - Bell will assume more responsibility. He will be expected to lead, on and off the pitch. He will be the man England turn to in trouble; the man who will shape games.

He is batting better than ever. It is not that he is timing the ball anymore sweetly or has discovered a new range of strokes; he had most of them anyway. And it is not that he is any more likely to make ugly runs; he is hardly capable of an ugly stroke. It is that he has fully embraced his role and responsibilities. He is prepared to graft and wait and work and fight.

It was a message he reiterated following Friday's victory in Aberdeen. Asked about the upheaval in the England camp over recent months, Bell responded with comments that showed much of the talk of coaches and team environment to be, to him at least, largely irrelevant.

"The players have to stand up and score runs and take wickets no matter who's coaching," Bell said. "That's the important thing.

"Giving responsibility to the players is going to be important. It's about the players standing up and winning games for England.

"In any sport the management can only do so much. They can get you ready but they can't do anything once you've crossed the line and responsibility comes down to the players. It's a big challenge for the senior players now helping the young guys come through and getting this team gelled. We saw with Australia how quickly a team can turn things around and we've got to believe we can do it, too."

It was the talk of a man who will not hide behind excuses, who will not hide behind potential and hope in the future. It was the talk of a man who knows that his own future and that of the England team is now entwined. If England are to prosper, Bell will have to shape a lot more game over the next few years. And he is revelling in the responsibility. Aged 32 and with a fine career behind him, it may well be that the best is yet to come.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • southstoke49 on May 12, 2014, 8:01 GMT

    Yes base the batting around Bell and the bowling around Dernbach.

  • SLisBestinEarth on May 12, 2014, 6:23 GMT

    Bell, an over hyped Flat track bully.. He haven't Shown his skill in Spin tracks particulary in Srilanka/UAE/India spin aiding pitch..

  • TimMann on May 11, 2014, 17:00 GMT

    Interesting comments - especially about the captaincy. He should be made England's vice-captain now, and be advising Cook from second slip. The rumors about Bell opening the T20 batting line up with Hales seem a bit strange though - even though I'm Bell's biggest fan

  • LeeHallam on May 11, 2014, 16:56 GMT

    He won the Ashes for England last year, and has been our best batsman over the last four years. He is of vital importance to us now.

  • on May 11, 2014, 12:10 GMT

    the new jersey is rocking

  • stormy16 on May 11, 2014, 9:50 GMT

    With 98 tests and 20 hundreds with a healthy average of 45, Bell has to bat at #3 and step up to be Englands premier batsman behind Cook. Bell has always been in the back ground behind KP and then Trott but now its time to give him the recognition and responsiblity to be Englands senior batter. He certainly has the credentials and record and this summer he has to deliver for Eng or what is already an uncertain batting order will be look even more unsteady.

  • on May 11, 2014, 9:13 GMT

    Bell cannot impose himself. He's days are over

  • Behind_the_bowlers_arm on May 11, 2014, 8:11 GMT

    Bell is a class act and England need to build the team around him. I'd have him at 3 to take charge of games. A lot of England's problems in Australia were due to the top three getting bogged down (when they werent getting shot out) and allowing Australia to direct the game. Bell has the talent to get the innings moving.

  • steve48 on May 11, 2014, 8:06 GMT

    Bell has always looked like our best player, but seems to lack the charisma to impose himself on not just the opposition, but our own team! Even after all his experience, not only do the ECB not see him as a potential captain, nor does anybody posting comments! After Cook showing so little as captain in Australia, it says a lot, doesn't it? As a player, what concerns me with Bell was summed up perfectly Down Under, in that after a great summer, and good first test, he allowed himself to be reduced to strokelessness amidst the carnage around him, instead of carrying the fight as our form player.

  • CodandChips on May 11, 2014, 7:54 GMT

    @Landl47 thanks. I guess I am again being harsh on Bell. I forgot in 2011 he was arguably our best test batsman (despite Cook and Trott getting the ICC awards). I really need to stop being too harsh on Bell

  • southstoke49 on May 12, 2014, 8:01 GMT

    Yes base the batting around Bell and the bowling around Dernbach.

  • SLisBestinEarth on May 12, 2014, 6:23 GMT

    Bell, an over hyped Flat track bully.. He haven't Shown his skill in Spin tracks particulary in Srilanka/UAE/India spin aiding pitch..

  • TimMann on May 11, 2014, 17:00 GMT

    Interesting comments - especially about the captaincy. He should be made England's vice-captain now, and be advising Cook from second slip. The rumors about Bell opening the T20 batting line up with Hales seem a bit strange though - even though I'm Bell's biggest fan

  • LeeHallam on May 11, 2014, 16:56 GMT

    He won the Ashes for England last year, and has been our best batsman over the last four years. He is of vital importance to us now.

  • on May 11, 2014, 12:10 GMT

    the new jersey is rocking

  • stormy16 on May 11, 2014, 9:50 GMT

    With 98 tests and 20 hundreds with a healthy average of 45, Bell has to bat at #3 and step up to be Englands premier batsman behind Cook. Bell has always been in the back ground behind KP and then Trott but now its time to give him the recognition and responsiblity to be Englands senior batter. He certainly has the credentials and record and this summer he has to deliver for Eng or what is already an uncertain batting order will be look even more unsteady.

  • on May 11, 2014, 9:13 GMT

    Bell cannot impose himself. He's days are over

  • Behind_the_bowlers_arm on May 11, 2014, 8:11 GMT

    Bell is a class act and England need to build the team around him. I'd have him at 3 to take charge of games. A lot of England's problems in Australia were due to the top three getting bogged down (when they werent getting shot out) and allowing Australia to direct the game. Bell has the talent to get the innings moving.

  • steve48 on May 11, 2014, 8:06 GMT

    Bell has always looked like our best player, but seems to lack the charisma to impose himself on not just the opposition, but our own team! Even after all his experience, not only do the ECB not see him as a potential captain, nor does anybody posting comments! After Cook showing so little as captain in Australia, it says a lot, doesn't it? As a player, what concerns me with Bell was summed up perfectly Down Under, in that after a great summer, and good first test, he allowed himself to be reduced to strokelessness amidst the carnage around him, instead of carrying the fight as our form player.

  • CodandChips on May 11, 2014, 7:54 GMT

    @Landl47 thanks. I guess I am again being harsh on Bell. I forgot in 2011 he was arguably our best test batsman (despite Cook and Trott getting the ICC awards). I really need to stop being too harsh on Bell

  • Buckers97 on May 11, 2014, 5:28 GMT

    A mix of youth and experience is required and I think they can it in this side; 1.Cook (c) 2.Lees 3.Root 4.Bell 5.Taylor/Ballance 6.Stokes 7.Prior 8.Broad 9.Jordan 10.Anderson 11.Kerrigan/Onions/Finn

  • on May 11, 2014, 4:53 GMT

    I sincerely hope that not too much is read into England beating Scotland in windswept Aberdeen....

  • kensohatter on May 11, 2014, 4:24 GMT

    Lets not forget last home ashes Bell was very dangerous and scored a mountain of runs. If England are going to turn things around in a post Trott and Pieterson era then Cook and Bell must stand up. Bell must hold the middle together. Id love to see this side. 1. Cook, 2. Compton, 3. Root, 4. Bell, 5. Morgan, 6. Taylor/ Robson 7. Prior, 8. STokes, 9. Broad, 10. Anderson, 11. Onions/ panesar/ finn

  • landl47 on May 11, 2014, 4:22 GMT

    @CodandChips: since Sri Lanka and India are here this year, you might want to look back to 2011 when they were last here. Bell made 331 runs for once out against SL with 2 centuries and 2 fifties, and had scores of 159 and 235 against India. He made runs, though no hundreds, in the West Indies series in 2012, had a poor series against South Africa but then had an important hundred in India. With last season's 3 hundreds in the Ashes, that's 8 hundreds in 3 years. Pretty good, in my book, and he managed to do it without complaining how difficult it was to be him and texting messages to other sides about the alleged deficiencies of the England captain.

  • ballsintherightareas on May 11, 2014, 2:33 GMT

    @southstoke49 Over the last six years, Bell has a higher test average that Pietersen. He is also a better (more catches per match) and more versatile fielder, is younger and almost never gets injured. Several good reasons to pick him over KP, whatever you believe about Pietersen's alleged disruptive influence on team spirit.

  • on May 10, 2014, 21:30 GMT

    Bell is a pretty batsman, aesthetically lovely to watch, but despite the above article has rarely produced when it matters. He needs to do so now, for the next 2 or 3 years. He has been immensely lucky to have been given so long. That good fortune wasn't afforded to the man he replaced, who had 10 times the mental toughness and ticker. and still does. Rob Key.

  • AdmiralKhirk on May 10, 2014, 20:59 GMT

    A decent write from an author who seems to be improving with each article.

  • jackiethepen on May 10, 2014, 19:21 GMT

    Some of those supporting KP who believe he was wrongly dismissed are on a mission to demean Bell who survived. This is a crazy. Bell had nothing to do with the sacking of KP. He's never said a word against him and remains represented by his agency. When Flower was ordering every player to their Counties at the start of the season, Bell put himself up for IPL auction. He didn't get a bid. Did he expect one or was he making a point? There was a time when Bell could do nothing right. He got runs but none of the plaudits. When Strauss and he took the game away from NZ in 2008, both centurions, to win the Series, only one pundit (Agnew) mentioned Bell. When he and Colly batted to save the Test at Cape Town, Colly got the headlines. When he got crucial 72 runs at the Oval in 2009 to set up the first innings, it was overlooked. He's av. 50 since his Test recall in 2009, higher than anyone with 12 tons to add to 8. When Bell was dropped he av. 40. He's got 98 Test caps. Unsung but world class.

  • Badgerhair on May 10, 2014, 19:11 GMT

    @14abhijeet 1 We want an opener who can stand being away from home for more than three nights. 2 Compton's not good enough. 3 Possibly. 4 It seems unlikely that opposing Test captains will not bother with third slip, gully or short leg, however generous limited-over captains may be in that regard. 5 Given that Cook at 1 is the only definite about the Test top 7, whatever line-up that appears at Lord's will be an experiment. 6 He already does. 7 Moeen Ali and/or Root.

  • JG2704 on May 10, 2014, 18:44 GMT

    @14abhijeet -

    1 - Tres will never play for England again and also he has only just scored a couple of 50s after his most barren season of his career

    2 - Compton could do a job as maybe could Patel down the order but I get the feeling they are not vogue players in the selectors minds and need to do significantly more than their rivals for batting places

    3- Maybe

    4 - Morgan needs to show more domestic form. So far this season he has scored 0,2,86,33 and 27 and also his shorter formats form hasn't been thee best this year

    @southstoke49 - It's obvious to everyone that there's more to KP's sacking than just the Australian form. If KP was head and shoulders above everyone I could more understand the clamour for him to remain an Eng player. I can't comment on his sacking as I don't know the full details - no one on here does - but IMO England aren't as weakened without or strengthened with today's version of KP in the side and that's before you factor anything else in

  • southstoke49 on May 10, 2014, 17:20 GMT

    PS. The thing I do not understand is that he was just as culpable as the other batsman in Australia, he played some appalling shots - some worse than KP, but because he is seen as a team man no one complains. If I had to pick either him or KP the choice would not even be close.

  • southstoke49 on May 10, 2014, 17:14 GMT

    The problem is that Bell has always played off of players such as KP. He rarely changed the tempo of an innings and before last summer never made a century unless there was a large score already on the board. He generally struggled in the 'defining' positions at 3 or 4. While he is a good player previous form would suggest that he needs a foil to play with and there are now none available. Cook ticks along in his own way and the others are too inexperienced to have a consistent impact. As soon as we come up against a decent side our run rate will stall. However I don't think anyone will care anyway.

  • CodandChips on May 10, 2014, 15:22 GMT

    I have at times been critical of Bell because he does at times appear unwilling to raise his tempo. But as the stats suggest he has been very important to the England side since his return, and I bet his average in this period is higher than anyone else for England (even Trott). A lack of hundreds may also be a concern (just 3). But he is still better than I give him credit for so I apologise.

    That said his test form before the home ashes was poor. Before the home ashes, when was his last test hundred (bar the one in India)? I just don't think he is consistent enough in test cricket. Hopefully he can prove me wrong. Also given his home ashes and the fact he is a senior batsman, I'd have him at 3 in the test side.

  • 14abhijeet on May 10, 2014, 15:17 GMT

    I think England should go with the Australia Formulae. 1. Get Trescothick back as Test opener. (Chris Rogers thing) 2. Get Nick Compton in 3. Stuart Meaker should get a chance now 4. Get Eoin Morgan in, sometimes you just cant neglect talent/class he has 5. Alastair Cook should experiment more with the line up 6. Anderson should lead the bowling attack 7. They need all rounder Tweaker

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  • 14abhijeet on May 10, 2014, 15:17 GMT

    I think England should go with the Australia Formulae. 1. Get Trescothick back as Test opener. (Chris Rogers thing) 2. Get Nick Compton in 3. Stuart Meaker should get a chance now 4. Get Eoin Morgan in, sometimes you just cant neglect talent/class he has 5. Alastair Cook should experiment more with the line up 6. Anderson should lead the bowling attack 7. They need all rounder Tweaker

  • CodandChips on May 10, 2014, 15:22 GMT

    I have at times been critical of Bell because he does at times appear unwilling to raise his tempo. But as the stats suggest he has been very important to the England side since his return, and I bet his average in this period is higher than anyone else for England (even Trott). A lack of hundreds may also be a concern (just 3). But he is still better than I give him credit for so I apologise.

    That said his test form before the home ashes was poor. Before the home ashes, when was his last test hundred (bar the one in India)? I just don't think he is consistent enough in test cricket. Hopefully he can prove me wrong. Also given his home ashes and the fact he is a senior batsman, I'd have him at 3 in the test side.

  • southstoke49 on May 10, 2014, 17:14 GMT

    The problem is that Bell has always played off of players such as KP. He rarely changed the tempo of an innings and before last summer never made a century unless there was a large score already on the board. He generally struggled in the 'defining' positions at 3 or 4. While he is a good player previous form would suggest that he needs a foil to play with and there are now none available. Cook ticks along in his own way and the others are too inexperienced to have a consistent impact. As soon as we come up against a decent side our run rate will stall. However I don't think anyone will care anyway.

  • southstoke49 on May 10, 2014, 17:20 GMT

    PS. The thing I do not understand is that he was just as culpable as the other batsman in Australia, he played some appalling shots - some worse than KP, but because he is seen as a team man no one complains. If I had to pick either him or KP the choice would not even be close.

  • JG2704 on May 10, 2014, 18:44 GMT

    @14abhijeet -

    1 - Tres will never play for England again and also he has only just scored a couple of 50s after his most barren season of his career

    2 - Compton could do a job as maybe could Patel down the order but I get the feeling they are not vogue players in the selectors minds and need to do significantly more than their rivals for batting places

    3- Maybe

    4 - Morgan needs to show more domestic form. So far this season he has scored 0,2,86,33 and 27 and also his shorter formats form hasn't been thee best this year

    @southstoke49 - It's obvious to everyone that there's more to KP's sacking than just the Australian form. If KP was head and shoulders above everyone I could more understand the clamour for him to remain an Eng player. I can't comment on his sacking as I don't know the full details - no one on here does - but IMO England aren't as weakened without or strengthened with today's version of KP in the side and that's before you factor anything else in

  • Badgerhair on May 10, 2014, 19:11 GMT

    @14abhijeet 1 We want an opener who can stand being away from home for more than three nights. 2 Compton's not good enough. 3 Possibly. 4 It seems unlikely that opposing Test captains will not bother with third slip, gully or short leg, however generous limited-over captains may be in that regard. 5 Given that Cook at 1 is the only definite about the Test top 7, whatever line-up that appears at Lord's will be an experiment. 6 He already does. 7 Moeen Ali and/or Root.

  • jackiethepen on May 10, 2014, 19:21 GMT

    Some of those supporting KP who believe he was wrongly dismissed are on a mission to demean Bell who survived. This is a crazy. Bell had nothing to do with the sacking of KP. He's never said a word against him and remains represented by his agency. When Flower was ordering every player to their Counties at the start of the season, Bell put himself up for IPL auction. He didn't get a bid. Did he expect one or was he making a point? There was a time when Bell could do nothing right. He got runs but none of the plaudits. When Strauss and he took the game away from NZ in 2008, both centurions, to win the Series, only one pundit (Agnew) mentioned Bell. When he and Colly batted to save the Test at Cape Town, Colly got the headlines. When he got crucial 72 runs at the Oval in 2009 to set up the first innings, it was overlooked. He's av. 50 since his Test recall in 2009, higher than anyone with 12 tons to add to 8. When Bell was dropped he av. 40. He's got 98 Test caps. Unsung but world class.

  • AdmiralKhirk on May 10, 2014, 20:59 GMT

    A decent write from an author who seems to be improving with each article.

  • on May 10, 2014, 21:30 GMT

    Bell is a pretty batsman, aesthetically lovely to watch, but despite the above article has rarely produced when it matters. He needs to do so now, for the next 2 or 3 years. He has been immensely lucky to have been given so long. That good fortune wasn't afforded to the man he replaced, who had 10 times the mental toughness and ticker. and still does. Rob Key.

  • ballsintherightareas on May 11, 2014, 2:33 GMT

    @southstoke49 Over the last six years, Bell has a higher test average that Pietersen. He is also a better (more catches per match) and more versatile fielder, is younger and almost never gets injured. Several good reasons to pick him over KP, whatever you believe about Pietersen's alleged disruptive influence on team spirit.