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."
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