May 31, 2013

Bell's struggle for runs

After an outstanding run-spree in 2010 and 2011, Ian Bell has had a lean spell since 2012, which seems to have pushed him into a shell

Over the last year and a half, Ian Bell has been struggling for batting form. This phase started with England's Test series against Pakistan in the UAE, in which Bell was expected to play a key role given his proficiency against spin. What transpired was quite the opposite, as Bell managed a total of 51 runs in six innings for an average of 8.50, falling four times to Saeed Ajmal and twice to Umar Gul.

Since then, Bell has played six series and never looked close to his best, save against West Indies' fairly friendly attack at home, when he scored 222 runs and was dismissed just twice. Despite that series, Bell's average over his last 19 Tests is a disappointing 32.07, with only once century in 34 innings, in a draw against India in Nagpur. Even that Nagpur century came in the last innings of the series, after his previous five innings had fetched only 56 runs. Excluding the home series against West Indies, Bell's average during this period falls to 26 from 16 Tests.

Before this slump in the last 18 months, though, Bell had the most prolific phase of his career, a period when he averaged 81.86 in 20 Tests over a two-year period, with eight centuries in 28 innings. That phase had started with the tour to South Africa in 2009-10, when Bell played two substantial innings in difficult conditions: 140 in Durban to set up a victory, and 78 in Cape Town to save the game. After a couple of easy series against Bangladesh, in which Bell filled his boots scoring 406 runs in five innings, he passed the Ashes test in fine style too, amassing 329 in six innings. Following two more run-filled home series against Sri Lanka and India in 2011, Bell would have gone into that series against Pakistan full of confidence, but what's happened since then isn't quite what he would have anticipated.

England will be especially concerned because the Ashes is round the corner, and Bell is a key member of the middle order. One of the aspects of his batting that has been perplexing is his scoring rate recently: in these last 17 months, Bell's strike rate has been a sluggish 37 runs per 100 balls; in the previous 20 Tests it had been 58, and over his entire career it's 49.56. That means that while Bell has been spending fairly long periods at the crease, he hasn't been able to convert that into runs on the board. During this lean phase he has averaged 86 deliveries per dismissal, which would have fetched him about 43 runs had he scored at his career strike rate of 49.56. However, his slow scoring rate means he's only making 32 runs in those deliveries.

Ian Bell's Test career
Period Tests Runs Average Strike rate 100s/ 50s Balls per dismissal
Till Dec 15, 2009 49 3144 39.79 49.95 8/ 21 79.67
Dec 16, 2009 to Dec 2011 20 1883 81.86 58.09 8/ 7 140.91
Since Jan 1, 2012 19 898 32.07 37.12 1/ 7 86.39
Career 88 5925 45.57 49.56 17/ 35 91.95

During the phase when he was at his best, Bell was solid against all types of bowling. He averaged almost 74 against right-arm pace, more than 300 against right-arm spin, 51 against left-arm pace and 76 against left-arm spin. Among the bowlers he dominated during that period were Peter Siddle - 104 runs off 126 balls, no dismissals - Ishant Sharma - 112 off 173, two dismissals - and Rangana Herath, off whom he scored 84 from 116 balls without being out. The bowlers who troubled him during that period were Dale Steyn - 2 for 67 off 123 balls - Morne Morkel - 2 for 33 off 119 - and Mitchell Johnson - 2 for 39 off 106.

Since 2012, though, lesser bowlers than those mentioned above have got the better of Bell. The one who has dominated him most thoroughly is a bowler of rare class - Saeed Ajmal had figures of 4 for 17 off 50 balls in the Test series in the UAE - but he's got out to Neil Wagner (3 for 48), Jacques Kallis (2 for 29) and even Kane Williamson (2 for 45). Overall, right-arm pace seems to have been his biggest problem during this period: he averages 23.64 against them, and has been dismissed by them 14 times. Apart from Kallis, Gul (2 for 1), Vernon Philander (2 for 17), and Tim Southee (2 for 49) are the right-arm seamers who've dismissed him twice.

Bell v different types of bowlers, between Dec 2009 and 2011
Bowler type Runs scored Balls Dismissals Average Run rate
Right-arm pace 957 1688 13 73.61 3.40
Right-arm spin 317 457 1 317.00 4.16
Left-arm pace 152 301 3 50.67 3.02
Left-arm spin 455 793 6 75.83 3.44
Bell v different types of bowlers, since Jan 2012
Bowler type Runs Balls Dismissals Average Run rate
Right-arm pace 331 863 14 23.64 2.30
Right-arm spin 303 630 7 43.28 2.88
Left-arm pace 117 368 3 39.00 1.90
Left-arm spin 147 558 4 36.75 1.58

In the last year and a half, Bell's problem has been both getting starts and converting them into substantial scores. In 34 innings, he has fallen for single-digit scores ten times, and between 10 and 19 seven times, which means half his innings have ended before 20. He has also been dismissed six times between scores of 22 and 31, which usually suggest he has played himself in before getting out. And obviously, the centuries have been elusive - there were eight in 28 innings between December 2009 and 2011, but only one in 34 innings since then.

Spread of Bell's scores
Period Inngs Sub-10 scores* Between 10-19 20-49 50-99 100+
Dec 2009-Dec 2011 28 5 2 6 7 8
Jan 2012 onwards 34 10 7 8 7 1
* Dismissals only

Bell's lack of form has coincided with a general dip in the performances of most England batsmen. None of them have averaged 50 or more since the beginning of 2012, with Alastair Cook being the only one with a 45-plus average. Trott had an ordinary 2012 (though he has come back strongly this year), Nick Compton has been inconsistent at the top of the order, while Jonny Bairstow has had a mixed run as well. With two Ashes series coming up over the next eight months, England could do with an in-form Ian Bell, who scores plenty of runs, and scores them pretty quickly too.

England's batsmen in Tests since Jan 2012
Batsman Tests Runs Average Strike rate 100s/ 50s
Alastair Cook 20 1656 47.31 42.84 6/ 3
Jonathan Trott 20 1486 42.45 44.78 3/ 9
Kevin Pietersen 16 1138 42.14 63.46 3/ 5
Matt Prior 20 1131 43.50 55.60 1/ 8
Ian Bell 19 898 32.07 37.12 1/ 7
Nick Compton 9 479 31.93 34.68 2/ 1
Joe Root 6 424 42.40 42.57 1/ 2
Jonny Bairstow 8 341 31.00 54.82 0/ 3

S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. Follow him on Twitter

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Brian on June 1, 2013, 19:59 GMT

    @qr39: "I wouldn't bracket Bell with Hick or Ramprakash but I'd not have them far apart." Interesting perspective, and one which Ramprakash would agree with. I recall in his book "Simply Mark" a passage where he suggested that he was unlucky that his first test series (and also Hick's) was against a rampant West Indies attack, and that more recently England batters are lucky in that they might get a few tests early in their career against the likes of Bangladesh. I don't think Ramps was quite right about this; in fact he did quite well anyway in his first series against West Indies before being dropped after a failure against a far weaker Sri Lankan attack, & in fact getting a debut these days against a weaker team like Bangladesh or West Indies is a matter of chance (ask Bopara, Trott, Taylor and Collingwood); but there's a clear reference to Bell's good fortune in what Ramps says; in the early part of his career his average was held up by some big not-out innings against Bangladesh

  • stuart on June 1, 2013, 18:20 GMT

    Randy Oz.Yeah we are so desperate we have got to the point of thinking of recalling our old captain. The difference is we have one batsman who we scratch our head about.You have an entire batting order

  • q on June 1, 2013, 13:02 GMT

    I wouldn't bracket Bell with Hick or Ramprakash but I'd not have them far apart. I just can't accept Bell as worth his place - in ODIs or especially tests. I look at other players in our side and imagine what opponents think of them. Opponents think (and probably wish) how great it would be to get Cook early or Cook and Trott early. They probably worry about being massacred by KP (if he's fit!) - or collapsing to Anderson or Swann in helpful conditions.

    Do opponents really worry about bowling to Ian Bell? I doubt it. If he's not getting out softly, he's probably running someone out. And what's more I detest this habit he has of throwing the ball away far too soon after he's caught it a la Herschelle Gibbs all those years ago. What's more he seems to be a bit dozy - remember that moronic run out back in 2011 against India at Trent Bridge. I wouldn't drop him - yet - but a period out of the side might just focus him.

  • Samuel on June 1, 2013, 10:10 GMT

    It's half the reason why I'd advocate moving Bell back down to no.6 - it's the only position he's ever truly flourished in and properly cracked. Having said that, when he was thriving there England had a much more consistent top order - Cook & Trott were regularly providing a platform, KP was contributing & Collingwood was also there. Basically, it's the old Bell problem - he never stamps himself on a game, only adds the flourishes started by other people. I don't think he's in danger of being dropped in Test cricket any time soon, but maybe he should be - in James Taylor, there's a ready-made replacement waiting, and the last time Bell was dropped, back in 2009, it kickstarted his career. That said, it would be a huge risk, and not the best move with the Ashes rolling into town.

  • Brian on May 31, 2013, 19:37 GMT

    The most revealing line in this article for me is: "Bell's lack of form has coincided with a general dip in the performances of most England batsmen." What that suggests to me is that England have just come up against some difficult bowling and/or difficult conditions. I've watched Bell's career closely for some time, and while I certainly wouldn't suggest dropping him, it's generally true that he thrives when conditions are not very taxing, and struggles when the pressure is on. Bell started the Ashes in 2005 with a ridiculous average of 270 after some easy innings against WI and Banglasdesh and averaged about 17 in that series, and never excelled against Australia until 2010-1 when their attack had signifiicantly weakened. I think I'm right in saying that almost noone has made more centuries for England in England victories than Ian Bell; but that he has made very few centuries for England in England victories unless another batter has also made a ton. Bell is a bit of an FTB ..

  • David on May 31, 2013, 12:36 GMT

    Article misses the point. England's batting stats have taken an upswing since Cook became captain, so Jan 2012 is not the right starting point. Since then Cook is averaging well over 50, whilst Trott and Pietersen over 47. He's right about Bell's form, which has been indifferent to the change in captain. However, his ODI form has been outstanding - the only England batsman to average over 50.

  • David on May 31, 2013, 11:26 GMT

    RandyOz - here in the England, we're concerned when our batsmen average less than 50 now. This is something your side can dream about. 6 of 7 of our top order average above 40. Even given the much flatter pitches you so often bat on down under, the respective figure for Australia is... 1. I mean, RandyOz, how can it be only 1? Are you not slightly ashamed to then make the kind of comments you do on here? Or is it part of some cunning plan which only you know about? And even when he's hopelessly out of form, Bell's average from the last 18 months is still the career average of one of your more promising batsmen - Ed Cowan.

  • Dummy4 on May 31, 2013, 10:44 GMT

    So, there was an article a few days ago about Stuart Broad and lots of us thought that Stuart Broad is just the English version of Ishant Sharma. Well, Ian Bell is the Rohit Sharma of England when it comes to batting. He looks pretty but hardly makes any runs when it is most needed. Agreed, he had a purple patch for 20 test matches, but a lot of batsmen have had that purple patch. Like latecut_04 said, he would have probably faced India before a couple of important series and gotten in to that groove to face the tougher opponents. He must be the one to make way when Pieterson returns!

  • Andrew on May 31, 2013, 10:39 GMT

    Looking at England and their performance over the last while ... They got to No. 1 in all three forms of the game ... relying on Cook, Trott, Pietersen and Bell ... But ... I think the English team were somewhat dogged by politics and not by just sport ... Pietersen should be a permanent fixture in all forms ... The bowling attack needs more consistency as noted in the feats of Broad lately ... Anderson, Tremlett, Broad, Swann, Bresnan and Finn are all capable bowlers ... as is Panesar ... The selectors need to also get some stability in the top order next to Cook ... Morgan is a brilliant short game player and needs to be kept for the short form ... England should improve if they keep the politics away ...

  • Randolph on May 31, 2013, 10:05 GMT

    No one averaging over 50, and they say we are in poor touch. I actually thought Bell's career was ended years ago by Warne. The talent must be thin!

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