England Lions v Australians, Worcester June 30, 2009

'My best cricket is ahead of me' - Bell

Ian Bell thought he'd be 30 miles up the road playing at Edgbaston this week. Warwickshire line up against an England XI on Wednesday for a three-day practice match and Bell expected to face his old team-mates with his county until asked to lead the England Lions against Australia in Worcester.

Bell's side contains a strong attack that will challenge the tourists, but the main attraction for these fringe players is to show they can match it against their country's oldest opponents. Despite being named in England's 16-man Ashes squad, Bell does not expect to race back into the starting XI for Cardiff, but he wants to stay in touch for the rest of the five-match campaign.

"The message that comes from England is that there is a lot of cricket to come this summer," he said in between showers that interrupted the sides' training for the four-day fixture starting on Wednesday. "This is a great opportunity for all the guys. I'd be very surprised if there were any opportunities for the first Test, but it's another opportunity."

Bell, who has played 46 Tests, was dropped on the West Indies tour and when the team returned home Ravi Bopara raised back-to-back centuries from No.3. Told to get hungrier by the selectors, Bell has since collected 516 runs in seven first-class games.

"I would have been very disappointed not to have been in the 16-man squad, I've got a lot I can offer England over the next five years," he said. "I believe my best cricket is ahead of me."

He led sides a lot during his junior days but Bell, now 27, has not had many opportunities at senior level. His toughest task over the next four days will be rotating an attractive bowling group that includes the internationals Steve Harmison, Graham Onions, Sajid Mahmood, Tim Bresnan and Adil Rashid. Onions and Bresnan played both home Tests against West Indies while Rashid, the 21-year-old legspinner, could leapfrog Monty Panesar into the XI if England decide on two spinners for Cardiff.

Onions is in outstanding first-class form, taking 51 wickets at 14.96 this season, while Harmison has 31 at 19.96 to prove he remains a threat after being dropped by England following a series of diffident performances. Harmison was a brutal figure during England's 2005 win and Bell said they both wanted to return to the top side for the re-match.

"When you've played for your country, and played a considerable amount, not being there hurts," he said. "You miss what you used to do a helluva lot. You're doing everything you can to get back in that team. Myself and Steve are desperate to get back in that England shirt."

Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo