Australia A v England XI, Hobart, 2nd day November 18, 2010

Bell shows off new assertive side


"Assertive" and "Ian Bell" are not typically found in the same sentence - at least, not as far as the Australians are concerned. They have never doubted his talent, but questioned his mental toughness and his ability to make big hundreds. If his forceful century against Australia A at Bellerive Oval is any indication, Ricky Ponting's men might see a whole new Bell on this tour.

Nathan Hauritz, Xavier Doherty and Steven Smith are the bowlers who should take the most notice. Smith cannot help but have learnt something from Bell's attacking innings; all but one of the deliveries in his first over resulted in Bell advancing down the pitch, and being struck for three consecutive boundaries was a disquieting introduction for the legspinner.

Bell went on to collect 48 of the 57 runs that were leaked by Smith. Although he was more watchful against the left-armer Steve O'Keefe, Bell said it was not a conscious decision to deflate the confidence of Smith, who is in Australia's Test squad, but rather an approach he wants to use against most slow bowlers these days.

"The way I've been playing spin recently has been as positive as possible, using my feet and being quick on my feet," Bell said. "It was just to try and assert myself a little bit on the bowler, but not because it was him, it was just the way I try and play spin as much as possible now."

Bell finished the day unbeaten on 121 from 158 balls, and in the back of his mind was the advice of Graham Gooch, the England batting coach. Gooch wants all his charges to focus on making big hundreds, instead of settling for useful half-centuries, which is one of the issues Bell has sometimes struggled with at Test level.

In 13 Tests against Australia, he's made eight half-centuries without ever reaching triple figures, and averaged 25.68. During the previous Ashes tour in 2006-07, Bell, who is now 28, showed promising signs on several occasions without making the most of his opportunities, but he is a much-improved batsman compared to the man who averaged 33.10 in a side that lost 5-0.

"I feel a better player than the last time on this tour," Bell said. "But in a way, it counts for nothing, really. This is good practice and it's great to go out and get hundreds, but the big stuff starts in Brisbane and that's when it counts. I feel a better player. Over the last 18 months I think my game has started to really take shape improve from the kind of cricketer I was last time I was out here."

It's that sort of improvement that has won Bell a spot in England's starting line-up ahead of Eoin Morgan, who hasn't played in any of the three matches so far on the tour. Morgan filled in during the series against Pakistan this year, when Bell was sidelined due to a broken foot, and had such success that it wasn't clear which of the men would be an Ashes starter.

"Eoin is a fantastic player and he's got a massive future," Bell said. "Competition for places is great. There's no doubt that when you lose your place through injury or whatever, you're going to have to fight hard to get it back. Coming here, I thought I would be the one on the outside and not playing. It's been nice to get the opportunity."

The Australians know first-hand that Morgan is an assertive and dominant batsman; he showed that in the first ODI at the Rose Bowl in June. They might soon form the same opinion of Bell.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Andrew on November 19, 2010, 22:14 GMT

    LOL - re: Bell. He'll choke. @Mervo - good one. Bell always looks like he is in the middle of a bowl action, good for him he had some release in Hobart!

  • Dummy4 on November 19, 2010, 5:07 GMT

    Bell no doubt is playing well. It would have been a different story if Warne was still playing. Just my 2 cents worth.

  • Steve on November 19, 2010, 4:57 GMT

    Don't get Bells modesty get you confused and thinking he's mentally fragile! He's not arrogent or bigheaded about his success but i think he'll prove his toughness with runs! COME ON ENGLAND!

  • Benjamin on November 19, 2010, 1:15 GMT

    @ Phoenixsteve I still have my doubts about his mental fragility. Read his comments I just tried to assert myself a little bit on bowlers. 'I feel much better now, but in a way it counts for nothing'. He needs to be more positive he's just rattled off a great hundred and he should be assertive about his performance. I think he's improved no end but I'm yet to be convinced when the chips are down he's got the steel to pull his side out of trouble or take them to victory. I'm an aussie supporter and see his achillies heel as the gap he leaves between bat and pat. Any seam or reverse will find him out and rattle those stumps. What frustrates me with him is he does the hard work getting to 50-80 and then loses his wicket. If he can convert those knocks he'll go a long way to becoming a great player.

  • Merv on November 18, 2010, 22:05 GMT

    Bell did well but he almost pulled muscle hitting all the full tosses that he received. The best thing about Bell is that he is English, not from South Africa, Ireland or Zimbabwe.

  • John on November 18, 2010, 21:30 GMT

    @Vasu Srini- you may be a relatively neutral observer, but that doesn't mean you know what you are talking about. Bell has made test hundreds against top quality sides; his best is 199 against South Africa and he also played a match-winning innings of 140 against them in South Africa this Winter. He made 3 hundreds in successive matches against Pakistan in 2006, when they were an excellent side. He hasn't made enough runs against Australia yet, but as yesterday's innings showed, he's certainly capable of doing so. As for England's bowling, the good thing about it is that it suits most conditions. If the ball swings, Anderson is among the best in the world. If there's pace and bounce, England have tall quick bowlers to get the ball up off a length. If there's spin, Swann is the top spinner in the world at the moment. What would hurt England is flat, dead wickets, but we haven't seen those as yet on this tour. So, Vasu, more observing and less talking would help your understanding!

  • Steve on November 18, 2010, 19:01 GMT

    CONGRATULATIONS to Ian Bell for an excellent knock - may he go on and on... A week or so I posted comments about his abilities and he's finally silenced the critics with his bat! It remains to be seen if the Australian contributers (Belly bashers I called them!) will acknowledge their mis-judgment? (I'm not holding my breath!) The form of KP and Trott are still something of a worry - but I suppose that IF they were in good form we wouldn't be seeing the likes of Bell and Colllingwood scoring runs? Every cloud has a silver lining.... Things are looking great for England but the real contest starts next week. COME ON ENGLAND!

  • Dummy4 on November 18, 2010, 14:12 GMT

    Fabulous footwork against the leg-spinner. Steven Smith, you are no Shane Warne!

  • John on November 18, 2010, 14:12 GMT

    This innings showed why the England supporters have been saying that Bell is a much improved player. He came in when England were looking a little shaky and simply dominated the Australian bowling. Incidentally, the conditions were still favorable for bowling, especially with the new ball which both swung and seamed. By that time, though, the Australian heads were down a bit and Cameron and McKay didn't bowl accurately enough. Smith actually didn't bowl that badly; it's just that Bell came down the track and smashed good-length balls around. What Smith lacks is a really viciously turning leg-break (like Warne's) and without that he's vulnerable to a batsman who can use his feet.l

  • Dummy4 on November 18, 2010, 13:47 GMT

    As an Indian, and relatively neutral observer of the Ashes, I can only chuckle at all that's happening. England in good shape, no team friction, doing all the right things on the tour so far, all players getting into nick in the tour games, means the media scrutiny is strangely on Aussies's shocking build-up. But all this means for nothing when the toss is called, and the real Ashes tests begin. For then Ian Bell who has played like a wimp his entire career against quality bowling, will be facing Hiffenhaus, Johnson, and Bollinger. Not some wannabe spin bowler whom he can bully. I haven't seen anything in Bell's English media hyped career so far that makes me believe he can pass that test. Strauss, Collingwood and may be K..P would do okay, but the rest I doubt. This Ashes would be decided on simply one factor - can Anderson & co swing the Kookaburra? If they can't then the English hopes go down the drain with that.

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