January 7, 2014

Pain can drive us to new heights

England have hit rock bottom, and now it's time to emerge from the rubble and start rebuilding

It's hard to describe the emotions within the England camp as we reflect on the result of the Ashes series.

Everywhere we go in Sydney we are met by England supporters who spent a fortune to come and cheer us on. We know we let them and ourselves down and the feelings of guilt and frustration and disappointment are hard to take.

We came to Australia with high hopes of creating history. We knew we were in for a tough scrap - anyone who suggests we were complacent just doesn't know this team - and we knew our 3-0 victory in the summer was a bit flattering. But to lose 5-0, by the margins we have lost these games, is unacceptable. I can only apologise to all the people, here and at home, who we have let down.

We have to give credit to Australia. Their bowling attack was outstanding, their planning was excellent and their ruthlessness admirable. We can learn from some of those traits.

The seamers, Johnson, Harris and Siddle, were exceptionally good, right up there with the South Africa trio of Steyn, Morkel and Philander. Mitchell Johnson bowled about as fast as anything I have faced - right up there with Brett Lee, Shaun Tait and Shoaib Akhtar - and proved too quick for the tail to deal with, in particular.

They learned so much from the summer, too. They had individual plans for every batsman - clever fields, clever lines of attack - and they executed those plans brilliantly. They planned better than us and they executed the plans they had better than us. We were outplayed, outskilled and out-thought. The best team won.

But the frustrating aspect of this defeat is the knowledge that we didn't do ourselves justice. There were so many soft dismissals and so many mistakes in the field that we hardly gave ourselves a chance. We didn't give our bowlers the support they required - either in the field or by batting long enough to give them a sufficient break between innings - and we never found the balance between crease occupation and positive batting that would have earned us the initiative.

We're at rock bottom right now. We know that, after a defeat like this, people will move on and the team will change. Several people who started this tour may not play Test cricket again. We know that the era that this team enjoyed is over and there will be casualties.

But sometimes rock bottom provides a firm foundation. Sometimes you need to clear away the old to start anew. Perhaps, from the rubble of this series, a new team can be built that will enjoy better times in the future. Perhaps the team that was beaten belonged to the era - the wonderful era - of Andrew Strauss and the future belongs to Alastair Cook.

I hope I still have a big part to play in that. This series has not gone anything like I had hoped but I have still scored 797 runs in the ten Tests against Australia - and 1000 runs in 2013 - and I still feel I can be a senior player in a developing side for the next four or five years.

I've no doubt that Cooky is the man to lead us into the future. He retains the utmost respect of everyone in the dressing room and, even though he didn't score the runs he would have wanted in this series, you don't become the youngest man to 8000 Test runs without being an exceptional player. I know a few people are suggesting we need a change of leader - I've even seen my own name bandied around - but I am fully behind Cooky. He has my absolute faith and support.

Our dressing room was a pretty sombre place after the defeat. We didn't need a bollocking. Some honest words were said but it wasn't the time to go into everything in detail. We have five months before we play another Test. There will be time for that.

Instead we went into the Australia dressing room for a few drinks. There have been some tough moments on the field, but off the pitch, there is no problem between the sides. It was a good thing to do and they were very gracious in victory. They deserve all the credit they receive.

But we can learn from this and we can come back hard. Just as Australia bounced back from defeats in 2005 and 2013, we can go away, look at where we went wrong and improve. You are bound to have bad days in sport. How you respond to them often defines you as a player.

So after the limited-overs series is done, I expect to have some time off and return to county cricket at the start of the season. I expect the captain and the coach to get together and come up with some plans for the future and then to let us know which direction they want us to go.

We're hurting right now but that's no bad thing. If this result didn't hurt we would have no right to be representing England. We've been hurt, humiliated and humbled. We won't achieve anything by pretending otherwise.

But sometimes the mark of a real champion is how they come back from a knockdown. From the pain of this defeat, we can build a new team and a new era. It may take some time but we have to use this pain to drive us to new heights in the future.

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