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England middle-order batsman

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

Ian Bell

July 9, 2013

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Ian Bell's serene form continued as he progressed past another half-century, Australia v England, 5th Test, Sydney, 3rd day, January 5, 2011
An Ashes hundred at last, after 30 tries © Getty Images
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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

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by R_U_4_REAL_NICK 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.

Posted by Angry_of_Wembley 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

Posted by   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..

Posted by   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)

Posted by jackiethepen 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.

Posted by H_Z_O 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?

Posted by mk49_van 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.

Posted by H_Z_O 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.

Posted by   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.

Posted by Nutcutlet on (July 9, 2013, 18:12 GMT)

C'mon, jackiethe pen... if ever there was an article primed for your objective & dispassionate comments about IB...

Posted by devang_thakker on (July 9, 2013, 17:43 GMT)

Ian Bell has been an important member of this England side which has won 3 ashes series continuously....but neither his ashes record is nothing much yo boast of nor his performance against the Aussie. But, he has been in good form after reinventing himself in the ODI side. This could be a make or a break series for him. But Bell is an experienced campaigner and it would be very interesting how he plays in the middle order with the likes of Trott and KP.

Posted by R_U_4_REAL_NICK on (July 9, 2013, 13:10 GMT)

Didn't the 2005 England squad all get MBE's or something, and Warne quipped something along the lines of "were Bell's 17 runs per innings REALLY worth that!?" I do miss Warne's banter so.

I am a fan of Bell nonetheless; as landl47 has pointed out, his test record should remind critics not to malign him so much. It always annoys me when people claim the likes of KP are much better/more important, when in reality a consistent 30, 40, 50... runs from Bell is always more valuable than a 0 from KP (who then just happens to go on and eventually get a big score a few innings later to keep his average inflated).

Posted by IndianInnerEdge on (July 9, 2013, 11:19 GMT)

He comes across as a nice bloke, ur regular joe next door.....good luck and hope the bell tolls....i'm a fan of his batting, on his day...he definately has class....England's Rahul.....Go Bell!

Posted by Patchmaster on (July 9, 2013, 10:11 GMT)

I think this is the make or break series for Bell, a poor show against Aus here, and ENG need to look for someone else. He has the strokes, but I'm never convinced he has the big game mindset. He also isn't a batsman that really intimidates bowlers, like Peiterson etc, or wears bowlers down like Cook. I hoep he goes well, and if he doesn't, I hope ENG look to blood someone else - maybe Taylor ?

Posted by shillingsworth on (July 9, 2013, 8:40 GMT)

@Jono Makim - You don't often start your innings when the score is less than 100 if you bat at 5 or 6. Bell stood in briefly for Trott at no 3 in 2011. Result? Innings of 159 (score was 6-1 when he came in) and 235 (score was 75-1). It would seem that 'getting him in early' isn't that great a tactic after all.

Posted by Ozcricketwriter on (July 9, 2013, 7:31 GMT)

Ian Bell started poorly against Australia but the Ian Bell we have seen in the past few years in both tests and ODIs has been a very different Ian Bell to the one who averaged 297.00 after 3 tests against Bangladesh and West Indies then failed against Australia. Right now he is one of England's best 4 batsmen, behind only Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen, and ahead of both Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow. There is no way that he should be dropped and he should be safe all series long.

Posted by   on (July 9, 2013, 7:25 GMT)

Get him in early boys, get him in early! Stats buffs go and make me a list of Bell centuries where he has come in with the score under 100, it won't take you long.

Posted by Mitty2 on (July 9, 2013, 6:53 GMT)

It is absolutely ridiculous that some have suggested that Bell be dropped. He has faced the best attack in world cricket for the last decade plus, and is obviously a very talented stroke maker. He has played in all these ashes series and is very experienced; for people to suggest that England play Compton, bairstow and root in the same team instead is just handing us the initiative! But, in NZ and the return series his form was pretty poor, (but not to the point of non-selection) and interestingly enough, when in the top 4, he averages almost 60 over the last two years! Although that's pretty irrelevant considering the order of the top 6 was decided a week go, maybe it's a reflection of Bell's batting... He needs the higher position and the associated pressure to prosper (although that contradicts the generalisation of bell being a squib under pressure); he certainly has had some very stagnated innings at 5 when the innings has required faster scoring

Posted by Rahul_78 on (July 9, 2013, 5:03 GMT)

Warne and the classic 'SHERMINATOR' line. Somehow the Ashes doesnt seem right without the legends and true characters like Warne, Mcgrath, Flintoff and even joker of the packs like Tufnell. Thank god for Swann who seems the only one adding some banter and character to the contest.

Posted by jmcilhinney on (July 9, 2013, 2:52 GMT)

I remember during the 2010-11 series, Shane Warne on commentary kept repeating (he was obviously very proud of it) the line "he's gone from Sherminator to Terminator". It did look like a watershed series for Bell, who had previously failed to live up to his enormous potential and particularly against Australia. He's still not managed to become the batsman he looks like he should be though, so a strong outing in this series will be important for him and the team. He's still my favourite batsman to watch but I don't get to watch him for as long as I'd like because, as he says himself, he keeps getting himself out. I think that he's easily the equal of Hashim Amla in talent but definitely not temperament, which is so important in Test cricket. England probably won't want to make more selection changes for a while but, if Bairstow beds in at #6, James Taylor may start looking a good option to replace Bell if he doesn't produce consistently over the next year.

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