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The second half of Ian Bell's Test career has been a lot more fulfilling than his first, but he still needs to iron out his inconsistencies
June 20, 2014
Right from the time Ian Bell made his Test debut, scoring 70 against West Indies at The Oval in 2004, he has been earmarked for great things. The elegance and grace with which he bats makes it seem that the art of batting comes easy to him, but the ride to 100 Tests hasn't been a smooth and blemish-free journey. There were periods when there were question marks over his stomach for a battle and a grind, but he has overcome that, and, going into his 100th Test, has firmly entrenched himself as the main man in England's middle order. The numbers stack up quite nicely too: 6787 runs, including 20 hundreds, at an average of 45.24. Many will argue that they should have been even better, but given that only 11 England players have made it to 100 Tests - and none of them averages 50 with the bat - Bell is in pretty good company. And given that he's only 32, he has time to add to his already weighty accomplishments.
Bell's start to his Test career was sensational: after his first three innings in Test cricket, he had an average of 297, as he followed his 70 on debut with unbeaten knocks of 65 and 162 at home against Bangladesh. Admittedly the opposition wasn't top class, but that start raised expectations, which wasn't necessarily a good thing given that the next series was against Australia. Ten innings in the series fetched a mere 171, and while he got runs against Pakistan home and away, another average series in Australia gave rise to suggestions that he tended to score soft runs.
That theory gained further momentum when Bell had another poor Ashes in 2009, but right after that series came his best phase in Tests, when, over a period of 20 matches in two years, he averaged 81.86, with eight hundreds. There were a few highlights during this period: in the Boxing Day Test in Durban in 2009, he scored 140 to set up a winning first-innings total, and in the next Test in Cape Town, he batted almost five hours to score 78 in the fourth innings and help England stave off defeat - it was exactly the sort of gritty innings that critics thought he was incapable of playing. Then, in the 2010-11 Ashes, he finally got the better of Australia, scoring 329 runs at an average of 65.80.
Those runs should have been the beginning of a consistent spell of success, but over the last two and a half years, Bell has again lapsed into inconsistency: in 30 Tests since the beginning of 2012, he averages 36.66, with only four centuries during this period. This includes an exceptional Ashes series in 2013, when he scored 562 runs and averaged 62.44. However, on the tour to Australia later that year, Bell was unable to stamp his authority, even though he generally looked comfortable at the crease: in ten innings he scored 235 at 26.11.
Overall, out of the 29 Test series he has played in (minimum two Tests), Bell has averaged less than 35 in 12, and 50 or more in 11, which indicates an inconsistency he hasn't yet overcome: in five out of nine series since January 2012, his average has been less than 35 (excluding the ongoing series against Sri Lanka). In contrast, during his best phase, between December 2009 and 2011, only once in six series did his average dip below 50, and even then it was 44.71, in South Africa.
|Period||Tests||Runs||Average||Strike rate||100s/ 50s|
|Till April 2008||36||2546||43.15||50.33||7/ 18|
|May 2008 to Nov 2009||13||598||29.90||48.38||1/ 3|
|Dec 2009 to Dec 2011||20||1883||81.86||58.09||8/ 7|
|Jan 2012 onwards||30||1760||36.66||41.97||4/ 12|
|Series averages||< 35||35 to 49.99||50 to 74.99||75 and above|
|No. of series||12||6||5||6|
Bell's career in two halves
Despite the dip in numbers since 2012, the second half of Bell's career so far has still been more prolific than the first: in his last 50 Tests he averages 51.30, which is a significant improvement on his average of 39.79 in his first 49 matches.
During the second half of his career, Bell has also improved his numbers significantly along some key parameters. In the first half of his career, he averaged 25.68 against Australia from 13 Tests; in the second half, he averages almost 49 against them in 15 Tests, with four centuries compared to none in the first 13. Similarly, his numbers at home and in second innings have improved significantly too. The biggest plus, though, has been his performances in wins: he averages more than 75 in wins in his last 50 Tests, compared to 42.58 in wins in his first 49.
The only dip has been in his fourth-innings average, from 41 to 33. Also, his away average remains below par: it's 39.92, compared to a home average of 66 since December 2009.
|Runs||Average||Strike rate||100s/ 50s|
|First 49 Tests||3144||39.79||49.95||8/ 21|
|Last 50 Tests||3643||51.30||49.00||12/ 19|
|First 49 Tests||Last 50 Tests|
|Tests||Average||100s/ 50s||Tests||Average||100s/ 50s|
|v Aus||13||25.68||0/ 8||15||48.95||4/ 7|
|in Aus||5||33.10||0/ 4||10||40.28||1/ 5|
|Home||29||43.34||6/ 10||23||66.00||8/ 10|
|Away||20||35.97||2/ 11||27||39.92||4/ 9|
|Wins||18||42.58||4/ 4||22||75.66||10/ 5|
|in 2nd inngs||41||28.82||1/ 8||39||47.30||4/ 7|
|in 4th inngs||14||41.44||0/ 4||21||33.07||0/ 4|
Bell's average of 75.66 in wins since December 2009 is among the best for all batsmen during this period. With a 1000-run cut-off, only three batsmen - Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers and Cheteshwar Pujara - have better averages in wins. Bell's average is higher than those of Pietersen and Cook, which indicates how influential he has been in victories during this period. His overall average of 51.30 is in the top ten too, and in fact he is the only England batsman in the top ten over these last four and a half years. That's despite his poor run since 2012, when his average of 36.66 is third from bottom among batsmen with at least 1000 runs during this period.
|Hashim Amla||19||1960||85.21||8/ 5|
|AB de Villiers||20||1850||84.09||7/ 10|
|Cheteshwar Pujara||11||1117||79.78||4/ 3|
|Ian Bell||22||2043||75.66||10/ 5|
|Ross Taylor||9||1004||71.71||4/ 6|
|Kevin Pietersen||24||2047||63.96||5/ 10|
|Alastair Cook||26||2489||63.82||10/ 5|
|Jacques Kallis||18||1280||60.95||5/ 2|
|Kumar Sangakkara||36||3965||67.20||16/ 14|
|Shivnarine Chanderpaul||33||2794||66.52||8/ 11|
|AB de Villiers||40||3610||63.33||10/ 18|
|Hashim Amla||39||3754||62.56||15/ 13|
|Jacques Kallis||35||3012||57.92||14/ 7|
|Younis Khan||26||2139||54.84||7/ 7|
|Michael Clarke||52||4547||53.49||15/ 12|
|Ian Bell||50||3643||51.30||12/ 19|
|Ross Taylor||36||2797||50.85||7/ 15|
The home anomaly
While Bell has proved over the last few years that he can score tough runs - and score them reasonably consistently - some of his stats still show unusual skews, mostly as a result of the first half of his Test career.
Check out his overall stats in home Tests: his average against all teams is 53.09 from 52 Tests, but when he has played teams from the subcontinent or West Indies, he has averaged 81.24; against Australia, South Africa and New Zealand the average has dropped to 34.11. Pakistan usually have a potent pace attack, but when they toured England in 2006 - the only time Bell played them in a home series - their pace attack through most of the series consisted of Umar Gul, Mohammad Sami, Shahid Nazir and Abdul Razzaq, while Mohammad Asif played only one Test.
During the second half of his career, Bell has transformed from a batsman who liked to play second fiddle to someone who can take charge. He has done so on more than one occasion, and now with him occupying the No. 4 slot - which earlier belonged to Pietersen - he'll be expected to play the lead role in the middle order more often. Given his range of strokes and his defensive technique, he obviously has the capability to do so, but there are still streaks of inconsistency that don't sit well with a batsman whose foundations are so solid.
|Versus||Tests||Runs||Average||Strike rate||100s/ 50s|
|B'desh, Ind, Pak, SL, WI||27||2356||81.24||63.12||10/ 11|
|Aus, NZ, SA||25||1467||34.11||44.49||4/ 9|
|All home Tests||52||3823||53.09||54.38||14/ 20|
Problems against left-arm pace
Zaheer Khan has dismissed him five times at a cost of 22 runs in 44 balls (average 4.40), while Mitchell Johnson has taken his wicket six times for 124 runs (average 20.67). Against all left-arm fast bowlers Bell's average is 33, which is well below his average against other types of bowlers. The fact that neither Sri Lanka nor India have left-arm fast bowlers in their current squads should suit Bell perfectly over the summer of 2014.
S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. Follow him on TwitterFeeds: S Rajesh
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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