Top Performer - Ian Bell

England's old-school anchorman

Ian Bell has burst forth from the margins to assume the role of England's tempo-setter

Andrew Miller

August 29, 2007

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Ian Bell: England's classical lynchpin © Getty Images
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It's widely assumed that to be successful as a one-day batsman, you need a personality as wide and exuberant as your range of strokes. Innovation and arrogance are thought to be the secrets to success in this feverish form of the game, which is why Kevin Pietersen was until recently perched at the top of the world rankings.

Right now, however, Pietersen is not even the kingpin in his own England team. His star has fallen as surely as Piyush Chawla has stitched him up with the googly. Instead, in the space of three innings in the opening exchanges of the NatWest Series tussle with India, Ian Bell has burst forth from the margins to assume the role of England's tempo-setter.

He has done so with the self-assurance granted only to the classiest of strokemakers. Quick feet and an eye for the gap have granted him dominance over India's battery of spinners, and he's done so without ever looking like a flash in the pan. His 269 runs in three innings - including a maiden ODI century in the first match at Southampton - have been compiled with the rectitude of a man who backs himself to bat through an innings.

"The key for me was my shot selection, the areas I was trying to hit the ball," Bell said after his century at the Rose Bowl. He is too classical a cricketer to be tempted into big shots willy-nilly, but the consistency with which he has pierced India's infield with high-elbowed drives has almost (but not quite) brought the textbook back into fashion in one-day cricket.

Nobody really doubted that Bell had the skill and temperament to hack it as an international cricketer. Last September he was named the ICC's Emerging Player of the Year after he racked up three consecutive Test centuries against Pakistan, and during an otherwise flatlining World Cup campaign he proved to be one of England's few players with a pulse, compiling an excellent if futile 77 against the all-conquering Aussies in Antigua.

Bell's 269 runs in three innings - including a maiden ODI century in the first match at Southampton - have been compiled with the rectitude of a man who backs himself to bat throughout an innings

But this week Bell may finally have quashed the lingering suspicions once and for all. Initially his omission from next month's Twenty20 World Championship in South Africa was greeted with resounding indifference, for an extra gear is thought to be a prerequisite in that most hyperactive version of the game. But whatever the format, there's nothing more reassuring than an innings with solid foundations, and Bell now backs himself to provide that, game-in game-out.

After Bell's second match-winning performance in three games - 79 from 89 balls at Edgbaston - Rahul Dravid pointed out that England were reaping the rewards for persisting with Bell at No. 3. Dravid is a man who knows all about the tempo of batting. His 10,505 runs in 323 ODIs have come at the less-than-lightning strike-rate of 71.22, but no one would ever suggest that he is anything but an asset in India's middle order. Bell has just completed his 50th ODI. At last, he is ready to be considered a seasoned pro.

Although these days England is all about the "team", Bell's success at his home ground will have provided an added frisson of satisfaction. Back in June, Warwickshire left Bell out of their Friends Provident semi-final against Hampshire. The reason they gave was that he had just completed the fourth Test against West Indies at Chester-le-Street, and so wouldn't be in the best frame of mind. Bell was less than impressed, Hampshire sealed a comfortable win, and talk was rife of a move away from Warwickshire. The rift seems to have been partially healed, but while his county may not always want him, his country won't be leaving him out in a hurry.

Ideally Bell will learn to take the initiative more freely, rather than simply providing the anchor to England's hopes, but for the time being - for a team that only six months ago seemed utterly directionless in one-day cricket - his development on centre-stage is progressing with welcome serenity.

What he says
"I feel more confident in my ability and I feel in pretty good form. When you feel like that, it's about picking the right ball and going for it. That is what Paul Collingwood and Peter Moores are desperate for us to do. If you know there is an option, go for it 100% with no fear of failure."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by sandip on (August 31, 2007, 7:01 GMT)

All these players are not hackers, but plays classical cricket. Hats of to Ian Bell for his marvelous performance.

Posted by meme on (August 30, 2007, 19:31 GMT)

Bell is really looking good, hope he keeps up the good work.!its amazing how one innings can change a career (LARA 277)

Posted by pragmatist on (August 30, 2007, 10:57 GMT)

Bell's exclusion from the Twenty20 World Cup is baffling. England go in with alleged "specialists", but will they prosper against the likes of Brett Lee? Ian Bell would be the ideal player to come in at 3 in England's T20 order.

Posted by Sachin on (August 29, 2007, 16:46 GMT)

Number 3 batsmen in any form of cricket one-day or test plays a very vital role. Its not an easy position to bat at and the player has to be equiped with aggressive and temperamental abilities. Dravid has been excellent and Bell's recent success at number 3 will boost England's very talented batting line up.

Posted by srivas_1960 on (August 29, 2007, 15:36 GMT)

There are lot of players in one day cricket like Ian Bell (classical cricketers). For example, Rahul Dravid, Chandrapaul, Stephen Fleming, Ricky Ponting, Jayawardane, etc. All these players are not hackers, but plays classical cricket. Hats of to Ian Bell for his marvelous performance.

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Andrew Miller Andrew Miller was saved from a life of drudgery in the City when his car caught fire on the way to an interview. He took this as a sign and fled to Pakistan where he witnessed England's historic victory in the twilight at Karachi (or thought he did, at any rate - it was too dark to tell). He then joined Wisden Online in 2001, and soon graduated from put-upon photocopier to a writer with a penchant for comment and cricket on the subcontinent. In addition to Pakistan, he has covered England tours in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, as well as the World Cup in the Caribbean in 2007
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