Ian Bell
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England middle-order batsman

The Investec Ashes 2013

Twenty Test hundreds makes my head spin

The satisfaction of being up on the charts with England's heroes and win the series

Ian Bell

August 15, 2013

Comments: 38 | Text size: A | A

Ian Bell made his third century of the series, England v Australia, 4th Ashes Test, 3rd day, Chester-le-Street, August 11, 2013
Learning from the struggles in Ahmedabad © Getty Images

When the time comes to reflect on this series and my career in the game, I know the summer of 2013 will always be very special. As a boy you grow up dreaming of playing in the big games and providing the important contributions to help your country win them. To have had the chance to do that in an Ashes series is a privilege and pretty much represents the fulfilment of many of my dreams.

It is surreal to hear my name linked to the likes of David Gower after scoring three centuries in a home Ashes series. In the same way, it is hard to take in that I now have 20 Test centuries; more than some of my heroes. Such things make my head spin, really. I'll think about them when my career is over, but there is a lot of unfinished business to take care of before that.

There were lots of heroes at Durham. Stuart Broad was the obvious one after he produced one of the great spells of Ashes bowling on the fourth evening. It reminded me of Andrew Flintoff at his best. When Broad gets it right, hitting that fullish length, at that pace and with a sharp bouncer every so often to keep the batsman unwilling to commit to the front foot, he really is a daunting prospect. Fielding at short leg, or slightly behind short leg as I was, the ball was coming fast and I could see how uncomfortable some of their batsmen were. It was one of the best spells of fast bowling I've seen.

Tim Bresnan also enjoyed a fantastic game. His runs on the fourth morning made a huge difference in the context of a low-scoring game and he supported Broad superbly with the ball. Graeme Swann, too, contributed with bat and ball as he so often does.

And then there is Alastair Cook. At the tea interval the game was slipping away from us. The runs were leaking at three or four an over and the batsmen looked disconcertingly comfortable.

But Cook is exceptional in those situations. So calm, so clear. He brought the team together at the tea interval and spoke about our plans after tea. He and Andy Flower made it all so clear and simple. That interval probably came at just the right time for us. We had a re-set and we went out with renewed energy and focus.

It's easy to talk about what you're going to do, of course. Actually having the skills to execute those plans is another thing entirely. But the bowlers were excellent after tea, bowling a fraction fuller, with brilliant accuracy, and a nine-wicket session tells its own story. They built the pressure until Australia snapped. It was a wonderful atmosphere for those last couple of hours.

It would be hard to overstate how important Cook's influence has been in our dressing room and on my own batting.

People may recall an innings I played in the Test in Ahmedabad. A brief but memorable innings. I came down the wicket to my first ball, my first ball of the series, and tried to hit the left-arm spin of Pragyan Ojha over the top. Instead I was caught at mid-off. It must have looked terrible.

When Broad gets it right, hitting that fullish length, at that pace and with a sharp bouncer, he really is a daunting prospect. Fielding slightly behind short leg as I was, the ball was coming fast and I could see how uncomfortable some of their batsmen were

It was a period when I was confused and lacking in confidence. I had some stuff going on at home and I had lost confidence in my own defensive technique. My mind wasn't where it should have been. While the stroke may have looked confident, it was actually exactly the opposite. It was the shot of a man who had lost the confidence to trust himself to survive long enough to build an innings. I was trying to assert myself by playing that shot. I should have asserted myself by batting for several hours.

Cook helped me get over that. The innings he played in the second innings of that game, a truly great innings in a desperate situation, showed what could be achieved if we gave ourselves a chance; if we battled through at the start, backed our defensive technique and wore the bowlers down. He reminded me what it meant to build a proper innings. His batting on that tour was some of the best I've seen in Test cricket.

He has been just the same in the dressing room. Whatever the situation - and in any Ashes series, the dressing room can get pretty tense - he has exuded calm confidence. However tight the match situation, it has been great in there and Cook has to take much of the credit for that.

We still haven't played at our best in this series. Our game plan involves batting for 140 overs in the first innings, building an imposing total and letting our bowlers go to work. In this series, we've either left ourselves with lots to do in our second innings or asked a huge amount from our bowlers. We should be making life a bit easier for ourselves.

We gave Nathan Lyon four wickets in our first innings in Durham. He's a decent bowler but on that pitch in the first innings, we shouldn't have been losing four wickets to him. We batted poorly and I was as guilty as anyone.

There is no need for our top order to hurry. Experience tells us that if we bat long enough the runs will start to flow and our middle and lower order contains some free-flowing players who love to put bat to ball. The job of some of us higher up the order is to wear down the bowlers and build a platform.

There will be no letting up on Australia at The Oval. We have too much respect for them. We know that this series could, so easily, have gone the other way. The Trent Bridge Test was close and, in my view, we were saved by the rain at Old Trafford. We can't allow them to build any momentum ahead of the return series in Australia. If the boot was on the other foot, they would not stop kicking us.

Besides, any time you represent your country is important. There is no danger of any complacency.

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

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Posted by gbqdgj on (August 16, 2013, 15:51 GMT)

@facebook user who continually mentions Broad in any article about this series. Please concentrate on what Bell has written...fantastic achievement by an under rated cricketer. I wonder in fact if sides take him too lightly and this is why he has (in recent years) started to shine a bit more. Oh and if you must mention Broad, what about Tendulkar who clearly edged Anderson in the last series and didn't walk. If you knew anything about cricket you'd know full well, when you edge the ball you know you have 99 times out of 100..Broad was no better and no worse than any other cricketer who doesn't walk. Get over it..it's not a disgrace, it's a part of the game!

Posted by SDHM on (August 16, 2013, 13:27 GMT)

Perhaps an even more telling stat than 20 Test hundreds - no mean feat in itself - is that not one of them has come in an English defeat. Inevitably some have been tougher than other, but when Bell does well, England do well it seems. Long may it continue!

Posted by salazar555 on (August 16, 2013, 10:29 GMT)

Best English batsman, simple as that. Better than Pietersen and far more likely not to throw his wicket away. Grit and determination combined with beautiful stroke play. Australia have no idea how to get him out as he plays shots all around the park.

I think Bell has always had the shots but he may have lacked that 'over my dead body attitude'. Now he has that there is no stopping him. Keep going Bell, make sure you get a hundred in the final test, hopefully two.

Posted by cric_J on (August 16, 2013, 7:27 GMT)

@Dark_Harlequin : Oh, I sure do take your word for it mate. I myself have had these "gut feelings" and instincts on numerous occasions and however ridiculous they may have seemed initially , I have been proven right on more occasions than not.

It might feel a bit strange but I almost always have these feelings of when Broady is going to get on a roll. I had it before the 2011 India series and my sister laughed it off. I had it in UAE. Then I had in that second test in NZ. And I had been having this feeling all long the Ashes (and have said it on most threads as well) and mostly after the pitch report on day 1 at CLS.

Athers asked Cooky at the presentation in CLS and even at Lord's in may (Against NZ this year) that whether he could sense when Broad was going to get on one of his miraculous rolls and I felt like saying "Don't know about Cooky , but I do get a sense of it most times ".

Posted by Sarthik on (August 16, 2013, 3:30 GMT)

I sincerely hope Summer in Aussie land is payback time for these poms... Go Aussie Go...

Posted by   on (August 16, 2013, 2:35 GMT)

What a refreshing piece for reading. The guy is one of the most attractive batsman to watch and yet so honest and humble. Must rank as one of england's best post war. Shows that one can combine grit and grace in one's batting.

Posted by jmcilhinney on (August 16, 2013, 0:04 GMT)

@dariuscorny on (August 15, 2013, 14:50 GMT), funny that when England were harbouring ambitions of winning the CT we were all told that it was a meaningless tournament and now that India have won it it's an elite prize. To be frank, while I'm sure that all England fans would have liked to have seen England win the CT, winning the Ashes is orders of magnitude more important. If that bothers you then all the better.

Posted by jmcilhinney on (August 16, 2013, 0:00 GMT)

@Gunjan Rathore on (August 15, 2013, 13:15 GMT), but why are you saying? Why do you need to say it? Tendulkar's achievements stand on their own. The fact that you feel the need to keep reminding everyone of them belittles them. Apart from that, the fact that Tendulkar has done what he's done doesn't mean that anyone else should be any less proud of what they have done. How about we all just say that whatever you've done is irrelevant because there's bound to be someone out there who's done it better?

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