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

RSS Feeds: Ian Bell

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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?

Posted by jmcilhinney on (August 15, 2013, 23:58 GMT)

@CricketMaan on (August 15, 2013, 14:58 GMT), quite so. Just look at the last Ashes in Australia, where Ricky Ponting was led Australia to what might be considered a worse defeat than in the current series, given the margins of victory. No doubt Ponting was one of the reasons that Australia were as good as they were but just one of many. I'd rate Warne and McGrath as more important to those sides but, even then, there were many other significant contributions.

Posted by   on (August 15, 2013, 23:32 GMT)

Every time Bell makes a century, the media uses a term that should have long become an overused cliche in the case of Ian Bell - 'coming of age'. Having a fascination with the batsmen of the mould of Jayawardene, I can safely say, Bell to me is the most watchable English batsman in the current test team. People said, Bell did not make tough gritty runs before this series. Just ask India when Bell in his own fashion tore apart the Indian bowling line up in England in 2011. Given the hype behind the series, I do not think they were cheap runs. Comparisons with Gower are certainly bound to happen, not just due to this 3 centuries record, but also the way Bell plays and he deserves every bit of that comparison. I have loved watching the Bell growth from being a Shane Warne's 'Sherminator' to one of world's leading batsman. Congrats on a wonderful career so far and would love to see you reach at least 30 test centuries.

Posted by I_am_nobody on (August 15, 2013, 20:28 GMT)

Well said @CricketMaan.. thats very true

Posted by   on (August 15, 2013, 20:13 GMT)

You've been my favourite batsman for England ever since you started playing so I'm thrilled to see you doing so well. I grew up watching Atherton, Stewart, Hussain, Butcher and Thorpe as batsmen, and England's batting at the time (with the sole exception of Thorpe and Stewart) was characterised for me by gritty face-saving defence against clearly superior sides. By the time you made your debut, I still thought things looked a little grim, and you were the first English batsmen I'd seen with genuine 'world class' promise. You've remained my favourite because - when you're on song - I genuinely think you're a more terrifying prospect to bowl against than Pietersen. Pietersen is dismissive and destructive, but he never looks far away from getting out despite that because there's an element of recklessness to his play. When you're on form and you get out, it's like having your head dunked in a bucket of ice water. It comes as a total shock. Plus, you're English born and bred! Bonus points!

Posted by   on (August 15, 2013, 19:36 GMT)

good batsman....congratzzzzzz

Posted by Harlequin. on (August 15, 2013, 17:15 GMT)

Also, there was one shot Belly played where Harris (I think) was bowling round the wicket and he drove him through the covers. That wasn't a cricket shot, that wasn't even art, that was imperishable beauty. KP can keep his switch-hit, Ponting can keep his pull-shot, Chris Martin can keep his forward defence - if I could chose 1 shot, it would be that cover drive from the Terminator.

Posted by tcherian on (August 15, 2013, 16:22 GMT)

It is funny how inspite of all the history English team does not have a single batsmen with over 30 hundreds. Cook is the only batsmen I think has a chance of getting into that bracket. Pakistan and England are the only two countries missing from that list. Pakistan ofcourse was always bowling nation with a few above average batsmen but none that took the world by storm.

Posted by Harlequin. on (August 15, 2013, 15:41 GMT)

@cricj - Who would have thought that Ian Bell would be the highest run getter of the series? I did! I wish I could find the article I commented on before the series started, where I said that I didn't think Cook would get many, and that Bell would get loads. Unfortunately I can't so you might just have to take my word for it! It was only based on gut instinct as well so you could say it was a lucky guess!

Posted by CricketMaan on (August 15, 2013, 14:58 GMT)

@UglyIndian, while im not going to gloat on 51 Test hundres, 108 wins was not achieved by 1 man but some of the best that have played Test cricket for Australia, without them Punter will be looking like Clarke, a misfit in a struggling team that has forgotten how to win.

Posted by dariuscorny on (August 15, 2013, 14:50 GMT)

@Plymlegend had u been gud enough u cud hv won the CT 2013 at your own backyard,winning WCs,CTs are elite prizes which are counted not thrashing a weakest Aus team till date...........cheers

Posted by UglyIndian on (August 15, 2013, 14:43 GMT)

@gunjan Rathore...if 51 makes your head spin, think of 108. Thats the number of test matches that Ricky Ponting has played in which his team has WON. Now that should make everyone's head spin, including the player whom you think has to be mentioned in any article, regardless of whether the article is related to him or not. I suggest you stop gloating.

Posted by   on (August 15, 2013, 14:42 GMT)

He suffers from a perspective of making the game look easy at times that he mustn't be able to stick it out, 'make ugly runs'. Well he is elegant at the crease, that is how he plays regardless of the conditions. He has a very good average and over 6500 test runs and would walk into most other test sides, certainly Australia would be happy for this sort of contribution. Some players suffer based on how they play, he must be more talented because he makes it look easier, but this is not the case. Bell works hard on his game and has shown the talent to make it at the highest level, winning games for his country while under pressure, what could be better

Posted by   on (August 15, 2013, 14:18 GMT)

i am one of those people who have always doubted Ian Bell 's abilities as a player and i must confess he has proven me wrong by carrying England 's batting on his back when the likes of Cook and Peterson have been out of form in the current Ashes. Well done Ian and keep and without doubt you are already the man of the series

Posted by   on (August 15, 2013, 13:15 GMT)

dear Ian Bell, many congratulations on an ashes series win and 20 test hundreds.If 20 hundreds is making your head spin,just for perspective there is one Sachin Tendulker with 51 Test 100s ,,,just saying

Posted by 2.14istherunrate on (August 15, 2013, 11:59 GMT)

So many people have reckoned,including Bell, that at 3 wickets down, we would have lost at Old Trafford. Would we? Bell at the wicket with Root. The 3 wicket mark seems to been okay for ys through the series so I am not saying whether we would have lost because we might not have. I watched so many great escapes, most recently in Aukland that there is no law which states that we have to lose in that situation. Anyway if Ian has another one in him for the oval then I am sure the record books would be happy to record it. And we would enjoy watching. He is a truly fine player and I have enjoyed him right through, and personally I could never take a player to task for 199 v SA. Some people really do not understand artists at work.

Posted by Pyketts on (August 15, 2013, 11:58 GMT)

@DustBowl your post is about 5 years out of date.

Bell is so very good to watch from a technical standpoint and has been the best techinical batsman in the England team for a long time. The comments about not acheiving is due to that fact that the demands on him are so high.

For example, Collingwood is praised as a fabuolous cricket as he has made the most of his limited ability. People always seem to be hard on Bell as he has such talent and sometimes he appears to waste it with silly shots but which batsman doesn't play the odd strange shot and get out?

Batting down the order for a number of years didn't help him get the "he needs to consistantly score big" monkey off his back, even though Eng have a strong tail it's not easy to consistantly score runs from number 6.

Bell is a class player, look at his average over a number of years.

Posted by sidrrrs on (August 15, 2013, 11:54 GMT)

And in the 'post-recall' phase of Bell's career, the one that stands out is S Africa 2009/10 when he was second in the averages with 45, including 78 off 213 balls to save the 3rd Test. In that series Trott averaged 27, Pietersen 25 and Strauss 24.

Posted by Jaybird67 on (August 15, 2013, 11:22 GMT)

@Dustbowl The "Bell crumbles under pressure" thing has been overblown for years. It really isn't hard to find examples of him coming in with England in trouble and producing significant innings:

2013 vs NZ at Auckland: set 481 to win and needing to bat for 1 1/2 days for a draw, Bell faces 271 balls for his 75 ( next most balls faced was Prior with 182). England ended 9-down but got the draw. Doesn't happen without Bell.

2012 vs. WI at Lord's: needing 191 to win the match, Bell comes in at 57/4 and scores 63 n.o. as he and Cook put on match-winning 132 runs for the 5th wicket

2010 vs. SA at Cape Town: set 466 to win or 10 hours' batting to draw, Bell comes in at 160/5, top scores with 78, faces 213 balls over 286 mins. England end 9-down and save the game

There are others, eg 2012 vs. SA at the Oval, 2013 vs. NZ at Dunedin, 2010 vs SA at Cape Town. Bell hasn't always lived up to the hype, I agree, but he's been far, far better than the meme suggests

Posted by sidrrrs on (August 15, 2013, 10:24 GMT)


Your post gives me an opportunity to highlight some of the performances in the first half of Bell's career. I find it strange that people completely overlook or have forgotten his decent Test record between that pair in the 2005 Ashes and getting dropped in the West Indies in 2009. During that time Bell was a good (not great) Test batsmen, he seemed to be reaching his peak with 199 against S Africa in 2008 but then strangely lost form and was eventually dropped. Here are some series where he batted well and others in the top 6 did not:

In Pakistan 05/06 Bell topped the averages with 52, Pietersen averaged 33, Flintoff and Vaughan 20 and Strauss 11.

In S Lanka 07/08 he was second in the averages with 43.5, Vaughan averaged 36, Collingwood 33 and Pietersen 25.

In NZ 07/08 he topped the averages with 50, Cook averaged 32 and Vaughan 20.5.

His home record in 2006 and 2007 was also very good (avge 53 across 11 tests) but others were scoring big as well.

Posted by TheDoctor394 on (August 15, 2013, 9:35 GMT)

You're selling yourself a bit short there, Ian. The way England survives and hangs on for draws, and the way you've had a hand in that at times, while it certainly would have been tough, you could have done it at Old Trafford, even without the rain.

Posted by ArthursAshes on (August 15, 2013, 9:25 GMT)

20 Test match hundreds, 57 times past 50, almost 6500 Test runs, an average of almost 47 and yet people still question him (although many have gone quite now). The bottom line is you don't get this far without being a very good team player.

Posted by   on (August 15, 2013, 9:12 GMT)

After the completion of Duraham Test, one of the most disconcerting thing for me is the accolades Stuart Broad is getting especially that shameful act of not walking after he was clearly out in the second inning at Trentbridge test. The dishonesty was set in as the precedence and prudence of winning for England in this series. So, praising Broad for what he has done seems out the gentleman spirit. You know Ian i heard that Chris Broad (Stuart Broad's Father) is not able to sleep after that meanfull act by his son. You better right an eulogy on the spirit which was once there in a cricketing contest.

Posted by SirBobJones on (August 15, 2013, 8:18 GMT)

If an English batsman HAS to score a hundred against the Aussies, I'd like it to be Bell!

Posted by DustBowl on (August 15, 2013, 7:54 GMT)

Yes he's done very well THIS series. But please show me another series when he came to the party AND others did not. After all he made his debut NINE years ago. Ref: "Learning from the struggles in Ahmedabad" -photo He did NOT, as he was out in a similar manner just after the fall of two quick wickets in the first innings of the last Test, making it 155-5, putting England in a hole he later dug them out of. Beautiful to watch, many pundits have said he's the most technically sound of both sides - but still not convinced of his mental strength. Has he made use of the undoubted talent he's always had?

Posted by Plymlegend on (August 15, 2013, 6:57 GMT)

Really excellent, honest, insightful article by an excellent batsman. Great to see him producing test, after test now. Personally, my favourite England batsman since Trescothick.

@Ajax - Nobody is as good a captain as Dhoni - and Cook doesn't need to be. What Cook has is calmness, respect and he gets the job done. He's a perfect England captain for this current England team. We don't need inspirational captains like Dhoni because our team is good enough. We just don't need a useless captain to mess it up aka Flintoff

Posted by   on (August 15, 2013, 5:26 GMT)

great player bell but I still think cook is not as good as dhoni

Posted by jmcilhinney on (August 15, 2013, 3:26 GMT)

Ian Bell is just being modest. Old Trafford is the only game in this series in which he hasn't scored a hundred so he knows that, had the rain not come, he'd have been there for most, if not all, of the day ;-)

Posted by Narbavi on (August 15, 2013, 2:49 GMT)

A fine underrated cricketer, hope he scores some runs in the subcontinent to stamp his authority further!!

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