July 9, 2013

Foolish to write off any Australian side

In the first of a series of columns on the Ashes, the England middle-order batsman looks back at his performances in the mother of all contests

2005: England won 2-1
Bell: Five Tests, 171 runs at 17.10, two half-centuries
This series was a huge reality check to me. I had played three Tests before it and they had gone very well. But I had never faced any of this Australian attack before, not in first-class cricket, and Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath were outstanding.

It was a shock. Both of them were probably past their peak by then, but it was a different level from anything I'd faced before. Australia were No. 1 in the world and this side remains, alongside South Africa in 2012, the best team I have faced in my international career.

In retrospect, aged 22 or 23, I'm not sure I was ready for that level of cricket. I didn't score the runs a top-order batsman should score and, of course, it left me with doubts over my ability to play at that level. I had scored runs in county cricket, scored runs in my first three Tests, but came up against an attack that could expose any little weakness. The experience of facing them probably prepared me well for later in my career, and I did at least score two half-centuries at Old Trafford that reassured me about my ability to succeed at that level.

But even though I would have liked to have scored more heavily, I look back on that series very fondly. Just to be a part of something that captured the public imagination to that extent was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and the Test at Edgbaston was probably still the best Test I have played in.

2006-07: Australia won 5-0
Bell: Five Tests, 331 runs at 33.10, four half-centuries
I felt well-established in the side by the time my first Ashes tour started. I had five Test centuries behind me and I had been the top scorer against a strong bowling attack in the series in Pakistan a year earlier.

I played pretty well in that Ashes series too, making four half-centuries and proving to myself I could do well at that level. But the tour was a huge disappointment. We lost our leader, Michael Vaughan, before we even started, which was a massive blow, and then Marcus Trescothick was forced out as well.

We were thumped in the warm-up games and our form as a team wasn't what it had been in 2005. We still felt confident and played some good cricket, but the collapse on the final day in Adelaide - there's no way we should have lost that game - was a real blow and we never recovered. Personally, though, I felt I had shown - to myself as much as anyone - that I had improved since 2005 and that I could score runs against bowlers of that quality.

2009: England won 2-1
Bell: Three Tests, 140 runs at 28, two half-centuries
I had been dropped ahead of that series. We were bowled out for 51 in Jamaica and I was left out as a result. It hurt massively. But it probably proved the turning point of my career. Andy Flower wanted me to go away, get as fit as I could, work on a few things and come back better and stronger. I always felt he rated me.

Maybe I had been overthinking my game, but I came back with a less cluttered mind, scored heavily in county cricket, then scored 50 in my first innings back, at Edgbaston, and played what I thought, at the time, was my best innings against Australia, in the final Test, at The Oval. I came in at No. 3 and made 72 in the first innings as we built a platform that won the game.

My figures since I was recalled for that series - I've played 42 Tests and averaged 52.16 with nine centuries - are very good and compare favourably with my record before: 46 Tests, an average of 40.59 and eight centuries.

I don't think I was ever complacent. But being dropped was a reminder that I was in danger of losing everything I had cherished. It also gave me an opportunity to work on the mental and physical side of my game.

2010-11: England won 3-1
Bell: Five Tests, 329 runs at 65.80, three half-centuries, one hundred

When I look back on my career, that tour will seem very special. Everything went well: our preparation was perfect and I scored my first Ashes century, in Sydney. We went into the warm-up games looking to win, not just for practice. We played at as high intensity as possible so that when we went into the Tests, we weren't trying to go up a gear, we were already there.

We scored a lot of runs at the top of the order, but I felt I was in as good form in that series and into the series against India as I have ever felt in international cricket. It was an incredible tour.

I think players of both sides would agree that this is still the biggest Test series we play in. Winning in India was huge, but the Ashes are still special. It would be foolish for anyone to write off any Australian team. They have a good bowling attack and, with the Dukes ball, should be able to swing it all day. I expect it to be a tough series. I have felt in decent form for a while, but I seem to be going through a period of getting myself out. It's been frustrating.

Ian Bell was speaking to George Dobell

A fixture in England's middle order for almost a decade, Ian Bell has played in three Ashes-winning sides

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Nicholas on July 10, 2013, 8:19 GMT

    @jackiethepen: Yes, you're right - it WAS Collingwood. Cheers for that!

    I do remember Bell's excellent fielding in that 2005 series. Easily one of the best fielders throughout the whole tournament I thought.

  • Gervase on July 10, 2013, 2:48 GMT

    Tell me a #3 who hasn't fared much better coming in at 100-1 rather than 1-1, and I'll show you a fibber. Doesn't make Bell a poor bat. Even Swanne will bowl a lot better with the scoreboard showing notmany for five rather than the reverse, where defensicve fields must be deployed and the darts come out of the quiver. That's cricket for you. Indeed, most sports. The making of Steve Waugh, for example, was not the first 20 or 30 Tests, where he struggled against the West Indies especially (who didn't?), but the 1989 Ashes, when Taylor and Marsh and Border and Jones were making tonnes of runs ahead of him. His very good average - of which he was always acutely aware - was bolstered even more by the number of red-inks he posted along the journey. I expect Bell to do the same thing in this series. I hope he doesn't, but there is little to suggest that sentiment as anything but a forelorn murmur. AoW

  • Dummy4 on July 10, 2013, 2:06 GMT

    Bell is a solid and fairly dependable batsman in English conditions.. I wonder how his record is overseas...I recall reading he plays spin well, but so far I am not convinced about his ability against spin. Bell should do well in the Ashes..

  • Dummy4 on July 10, 2013, 0:39 GMT

    Ian Bell: Vs Aus 30 completed innings, 971 runs (Ave 32.4), 1 century, 13 half centuries Not exactly a brilliant performance, although he has been getting better (AND I KNOW I could not do as well)

  • Jackie on July 10, 2013, 0:34 GMT

    For Real_Nick: Warne had a crack at Collingwood (not Bell) about being awarded the MBE for his 9 runs in the Final Test. Collingwood had been selected just for the final Test but he was awarded an MBE with the rest of the side. Bell doesn't mention his fielding in the Ashes 2005 but he was regarded as the best fielder of the Series, often close in at short leg. He took 8 catches. Bell's fielding is still rated as the best in the England team (by fielding coach Richard Halsall) Glad to be of service Nutcutlet.

  • H on July 10, 2013, 0:13 GMT

    @Jono Makim And yes, Clarke's done it more times, and yes he bats 4 or 5 (which is still a slot higher than Bell's usual 5 or 6) but most of those have been recently. I've looked and I think I can only see two innings before Hayden retired where Clarke's come in with less than 100 on the board and scored a ton.

    Clarke rarely came in under 100 when Australia's top four were Hayden, Langer, Ponting and Hussey, but likewise it's rarely happened to Bell when it's been Cook, Strauss, Trott and Pietersen. Often, when it has, he's scored the runs. Faisalabad was actually only his second Test ton, his first outside of England.

    And I'm not comparing Clarke with Bell as a player, just pointing out that a much better player in Clarke hasn't done it many more times than Bell until your batting became as brittle as I think you'd agree it's been of late. I'm going to guess you'd rather your top 3 or 4 weren't getting bowled out so cheaply that Clarke has to be the one to keep rescuing you, right?

  • Milind on July 9, 2013, 23:59 GMT

    The Aussie pace attack has a surprise or two (may be three!) waiting for the Poms. The bells shall toll....... for the english.

  • H on July 9, 2013, 23:56 GMT

    @Jono Makim Bit of a tough ask for a guy batting at 5 and 6 for most his career but here goes:

    Faisalabad 2005. Came in at 44-2 and scored 115, highest score of the innings.

    Ok, 17 runs over, but South Africa, Lords, 2008. Came in at 117-3 against Steyn and Morkel. Scored 199, out-scoring Pietersen.

    Again, a bit over, but Sri Lanka, Southampton, 2011. Came in at 120-3. Top-scored with 119.

    Trent Bridge, where we are tomorrow (you'd better hope you've not jinxed it), 2011. India had a lead of 67, and our response stood at 6-1 when he came in. Top scored with 159.

    The Oval, 2011, India again. England 75-1, scored 235. Against a poor attack, but Cook, Trott and KP all scored less against it.

    Nagpur, 2012. England 94-3 after Pietersen got out to a rash shot. Last match of a series England were leading 2-1, first innings were separated by only 4 runs (India only 98 runs behind). Bell scored 116*, sealing the series victory.

    There were others, but I think the point's been made.

  • Dummy4 on July 9, 2013, 21:33 GMT

    Ian Bell, we all remember that century. You were out caught behind with a clear nick, shrugged ur shoulders and gave a look that said I will give it a run and miraculously no hot spot. That was the end of Vaseline on the edge of the bat! Don't count that ton buddy, it was a good fifty.