England in India 2012-13 December 2, 2012

Bell returns to complete copybook


Ian Bell has returned to India determined to put right what he believes is the one glaring omission in his record as an international batsman.

Bell, who missed the second Test on paternity leave, feels that personal success in India represents the final frontier in an international career that has encompassed significant highs in every other Test-playing nation.

But, after six Tests in India, Bell's record is distinctly modest. He averages 18.36 with a top score of 57, made on his first senior tour in 2006. It is a disappointing return for one so richly talented and stands in stark contrast to his overall career record of 5,549 Test runs at an average of 46.24. His ODI record in the country - 237 runs from nine matches with an average of 26.33 - is also markedly lower than his overall record.

"India is the one place," Bell said. "My first tour to Pakistan went really well. I played nice cricket in Sri Lanka. But here has not gone so well. And it's been the same in one-day cricket. It's the one place left around the world for me."

Bell admitted his anxiety to prove himself in India had resulted in his first innings dismissal in Ahmedabad - caught at mid-off as he charged down the pitch and attempted to loft his first delivery over the infield. The example of Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen had reminded him that occupying the crease offered a more sensible long-term tactic than trying to dominate from the start.

"Maybe sometimes I have tried a bit too hard," he said. "That shot in Ahmedabad was a sign of me saying, 'Right, I'm coming at you, I'm not going to sit here and just get out'. I've got off the mark a lot with that shot over the last few years. It's a big shot for me. My attempt was to be positive. At times, I have been reactive rather than positive. When it doesn't come off, it doesn't look particularly great but that's probably the first one I've hit straight up in the air in an England shirt. I'm not going to put that shot away but I'll probably have to pick a better time to play it. I take full responsibility: it was a poor way to get out in that situation.

"Watching the way Cook and Pietersen played in the last game, there are runs out here if you occupy the crease long enough. Cook has led by example. It will get easier but you have to do the work early in your innings."

"He's been able to turn Warwickshire into a really good side and created an environment where players can learn to do things for themselves."
Ian Bell on Ashley Giles

While Bell arrived back in England just too late to support his wife through the birth of their first child, he still described fatherhood as "the best thing that has ever happened to me" and felt the added perspective the experience had given him would only help him as a cricketer. "From what's happened in the last week, my thoughts have changed," he said. "Maybe I've built a bit too much on myself in the past and now I just want to go out and trust my ability and spend time in the middle and score runs.

"I've got better over time but, certainly in my early days, I'd beat myself up a lot. You want to score runs every time but the realism is that you're not going to. There will be times when you are in really good form and times when runs are hard to come by. But certainly now it gives me more of a balance and I can enjoy every day and every time I am with the England team. That's what I want to do - not worry about things and go out and enjoy my cricket."

Bell also welcomed the appointment of Ashley Giles as England's limited-overs coach. Bell played with Giles for Warwickshire and England and, more recently, has watched Giles at close quarters in his role as director of cricket at Edgbaston. "It is exciting for him," Bell said. "He has been fantastic at Warwickshire. When he took over we were in a tricky position and it took him a couple of years to sort it out. In the last couple of years, with a couple of good signings as well, he's been able to turn the team into a really good side. He's created an environment where players can learn to do things for themselves. Hopefully, with Andy Flower, he can do that with England, too.

"I see no reason why having two coaches won't work. Look at the fixtures: people talk about the players, but the backroom staff have to do every game as well. It's just as important to rotate those guys and keep them fresh as it is for the players. Hopefully, this will have a great impact for Andy and the whole back-room staff. To keep that intensity all year round is hard, so to bring in fresh energy will be great."

While Bell is likely to win his place back in the team, it is no certainty. Jonny Bairstow, who made such a fine impression in the final Test of the series against South Africa, making 95 and 54, could count himself most unfortunate to miss out on selection in Ahmedabad and had little luck when being given out in Mumbai, caught by a ball that had bounced off Gautam Gambhir's helmet at silly point.

"It was obviously desperately disappointing," Bairstow said of being dropped for Ahmedabad. "But I'll be delighted if I do get selected this time and I'm working hard in training and in the nets. That's the situation in professional sport. You learn to deal with it, growing up when you come through playing for your county and then for the Lions, then one-dayers and up to the Tests."

It is possible that both men could play. The experiment with using Samit Patel as an allrounder could well be abandoned - he delivered just four overs in the Mumbai Test - leaving him to fight for selection on the merit of his batting alone. And, averaging just 12.66 with the bat after four Tests, he has not made the strongest case for his retention.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • R on December 4, 2012, 21:23 GMT

    @neil99... beautifully put, and described!

  • Neil on December 4, 2012, 8:14 GMT

    This should be the end of Bell. Or the Bell end.

  • Ajith Prasad on December 4, 2012, 6:59 GMT

    I do not expect much fires form Ian Bell in India, how ever Finn's return could be bad for India :)

  • R on December 4, 2012, 4:16 GMT

    @jackie... bell was averaging in the 20s v oz prior to last ashes and he had an ineffectual tour again, he holed out at Gabba at a crucial time, holed out for 1 at MCG at a crucial time and scored a ton after everyone else did at SCG having edged behind in the 70s and recalled via DRS.. at no point was he a matchwinner or saver and his ave now vs oz is still only 32. He has only 1 (lucky) ton in 18 matches vs oz and 11 50s, a very poor conversion rate, and so bell was certainly very lucky to be on that last ashes trip, just as he is lucky to be on this India trip as his record vs spin is very poor this year, ave 8 in UAE, as was shown by THAT shot he played in the 1st test when Eng needed someone with some gumption coming in, not a headless chicken. As far as I am aware stats do not lie! Bell's ave vs B'desh of 158 bloats his overall ave up to the 40s when he is definitely a 30s ave player, a little bit of style on his day, but very little substance when it matters.

  • stephen on December 3, 2012, 15:16 GMT

    England 3rd Test 11, A.Cook N.Compton J.Root K.Pieterson E.Morgan J.Bairstow M.Prior S.Patel G.Swann S.Finn M.Panesar.

  • Owen on December 3, 2012, 14:18 GMT

    I like Belly, and I believe the selectors should stick with him as they did with Cook. I think Bell is at a stage in his career where dropping him for a few games so that he can work on his technique isn't going to do much good. Keep him in for a while and if he can regain some form and/or conquer India then the runs will flow for him for the next few years. If they want to give the youngsters a bit more exposure then Patel should be the man to go, if he isn't going to bowl much on Indian pitches, he won't bowl much anywhere, and his batting is not in the same league as Bell.

  • Jackie on December 3, 2012, 14:01 GMT

    I thought we had reached the nadir in twisting Bell's stats but no. Here they are again all those who tried to keep him out of the Ashes in 2009. What a good job the selectors decided otherwise. Half-baked opinions raked up from years ago. Dobell knows he is just talking up controversy. Bairstow and Patel can hardly compete with an established Test batsman. One of them will have to be dropped. There is a No 6 up for grabs which we have been trying to fill for years - where are all the wonderful replacements for Bell? Why haven't they nailed No 6 spot yet? The reason is they have all failed at crucial moments. As Nasser said when Bell was at 6 he was making centuries. If you can't find a No 6 to do that then you might as well have Prior at 6. Bell is having a lean year post his golden period. So did the famous Ponting after his first golden period. I wonder if there were the same ridiculous comments? I doubt it. Once you have spotted class you stick to it.

  • John on December 3, 2012, 12:11 GMT

    Bell's a good player and his overall record proves that, so anyone who denies it is foolish. That said, his record in India proves that he has been poor there, so it's foolish to deny that as well. He hasn't played all that many innings though so, while I do believe that Jonny Bairstow has a big future for England, I don't see that he has done anything specific to indicate that he will do better than Bell for the rest of this series. Bairstow has played little and has had one good game while Bell has more experience and more good games so the selectors would be justified to conclude that the chances of Bell playing a good innings in the next Test match is greater than the chance of Bairstow doing so. Also, while it might be a good idea to select teams as horses for courses, that's a rare thing in any country when it comes to batting and the ECB are way to conservative to go that way. Bell's a regular so he'll almost certainly be in.

  • Dummy4 on December 3, 2012, 11:36 GMT

    Bell close to Amla, Hussey and AB? They all average near or over 50, Bell 46 and all bar AB have a far better record of converting centuries than Bell. I too don't agree with the discussion about Bell not scoring 1st test ton, not only is not true any more but he did have two very good years. However this is now subtracted from by a very poor year here especially against two far superior attacks (Pak and SA) than the Indian and Sri Lankan attacks he belted at home. He has a chance in these last two tests to put it right to some degree.

  • ian on December 3, 2012, 11:13 GMT

    There's a sporting rule that's usually observed: don't change a winning side unless you have to. Broad's loss of form/effectiveness is a 'have-to' in this respect, esp. in the light of Finn's return to full fitness. So, should Jonny B be asked to step aside to allow Ian Bell back in? It's not an enforced change, far from it. but if Bell returns, it gives JB a confidence-sapping message: you're not a first choice, lad, & IB is, even if he looked as if he'd lost his marbles in Ahmedabad. It's not in Flower's nature to give someone one Test & then drop them. The other scenario is that both play & Samit is relegated. IMO, this would be unfair on SP. If the pitch at Kolkata is as batsman-friendly as many seem to think it is, then those tidy overs from SP might come in very handy. He also looked as if he was at home batting in Mumbai. He has his detractors, I know, but in the interests of continuity, I would keep him at #6. I'd back him to get more runs than IB on these wickets anyway.

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