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Australia v England, 3rd Test, Perth, 2nd day

Classy Bell deserves a promotion

For the second time in three innings against Australia, Ian Bell arrived at the crease with his team in the throes of a crisis. For the second time in three innings, he responded as if he'd come armed with a picnic blanket and hamper.

Andrew Miller at the WACA

December 17, 2010

Comments: 33 | Text size: A | A

Ian Bell played superbly for his 53, Australia v England, 3rd Test, Perth, 2nd day, December 17, 2010
Ian Bell was a class above his England colleagues today but was left running out of partners after passing fifty © Getty Images
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For the second time in three innings against Australia, Ian Bell arrived at the crease with his team in the throes of a crisis. For the second time in three innings, he responded as if he'd come armed with a picnic blanket and hamper. At Brisbane on the first day of the series the score had been a wobbly 4 for 125, with the Gabbatoir throbbing at the prospect of another Pom pounding; today it was 4 for 94 - or 4 for 16 in the seven overs since Mitchell Johnson had located his inner hornet.

Bell, however, faced both situations with the insouciance of a man strolling to the wicket at 4 for 452, the scoreline which had greeted him for the third of his performances, at Adelaide a fortnight ago. His first scoring shot came from his second delivery at the crease, an exquisite drive through mid-off as Ryan Harris offered him a length that his dancing feet turned into a half-volley, and all throughout Johnson's onslaught, Bell alone possessed the technique to deal with his devastating late swerve.

Three innings, three scores between 53 and 76, and three glimpses of a player who looks, stroke for stroke, the most compact and accomplished batsman on either side - more technically correct than the run-harvester Alastair Cook, more composed than Michael Hussey, the fidgety colossus of Australia's campaign to date. And more brimful of form and focus than Ricky Ponting, the only man on either side who can lay a claim to true greatness.

And yet, Bell's performances are just a speck on the stats of a run-laden Ashes series, because he's still paying the price for his failings of the past. There was a time not so long ago when No. 6 in the order was the only rightful place for a player of such undeniable talent, but whose temperament remained suspect. The logic was that he was a reactive cricketer, a batsman who could only play his natural game if others had succeeded or failed before him, and that oft-quoted stat about him reaching three figures only in partnership with another centurion was more than just a coincidence.

But Bell's better than that now, and it's doing the man a disservice to say that he has reached the make-or-break moment of his career - because he reached that almost exactly 12 months ago in South Africa.

At Durban he produced a century of such perfect acceleration that England went on to win by an innings, then he followed that up with a match-saving 78 in Cape Town a fortnight later, in the third of the epic rearguards that no less a judge than Steve Waugh has credited for transforming England from international also-rans to genuine contenders.

Bell turned the corner long enough ago, and for the sake of days such as these, England need to heed the lesson and reward him with a promotion. There's never been any doubt about his appetite for big scores - witness his three centuries in consecutive Tests against Pakistan way back in 2006 - and such is the surety of his touch right now that he could well have translated each of his starts in this series had he not felt the need to up the ante with the tail collapsing around him.

"There's no point in getting frustrated, six is my position," said Bell. "I've been doing it for a while now and it's only been a couple of occasions where I've run out of partners. It's disappointing because I feel like I'm hitting the ball as well as I ever have done, but as long as I'm contributing to this team and putting in performances that help us win or save Test matches, then I'm happy."

Shoving him all the way up the order to No. 3 would be an error right now - Jonathan Trott is at home in that position, and besides, Bell has had enough trouble at first-drop for the scars still to be visible, if not to the man himself - whose body language on this tour, on and off the field, has been supremely confident - then to the wider public who still find it hard to believe that the mousy character of yesteryear has started to learn how to roar.

But No. 4 or 5 is surely where he now belongs. Paul Collingwood is invariably the batsman on the brink of the axe in England's team, but his tally of 88 runs in eight innings speaks of a batsman whose role has become muddled, not least by England's recent run of successes which has left little need for his nuggetty, safety-first style. It could well be that his Brigadier Block persona will have to come out of mothballs at some stage in this Test, but if it does, it would make more sense if Bell has had a first crack at the defence. Apart from anything else, he is middling everything that Australia can fling at him. Collingwood, on the other hand, missed the ball that nailed him lbw by a good nine inches.

As Christian Ryan wrote in his blog on Thursday evening, No. 6 on the batting card is, in Australian tradition, a place where the stars of the future learn their trade - Trumper. Bradman. Harvey. Chappell. Chappell. Border. Waugh. Waugh. Ponting - to name but a few. While Steven Smith's credentials await examination on the third day at the WACA, Bell's have already surpassed all expectations. He's got to go up, because he'll help stop England slipping down on days when Australia's bowlers are simply too good for his colleagues.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo.

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by Aussasinator on (December 18, 2010, 8:50 GMT)

Overconfidence in batting has hurt the England cause more than any great bowling menace or pitch devils. I am quite disappointed.

Posted by JB77 on (December 18, 2010, 7:46 GMT)

Talk about a sheep in wolf's clothing. This new cocky, strutting Bell is cringe-worthy. It's almost as if he's been travelling in Pietersen's slip-stream for so long that he's become Kevin's mini-me. 'A player who looks, stroke for stroke, the most compact and accomplished batsman on either side' - give me a break. The only progress Bell has made in the past year is that he now throws his wicket away after making 50-odd classy runs instead of 30-odd classy runs. Move Bell away from the 'not-much-is-expected-from-me-at-number-6 safety net' and watch him crumble.

Posted by Boonidge on (December 18, 2010, 5:41 GMT)

I like Finn but at the moment he's length is too inconsistent. Bresnan to come in for the Boxing Day test.

Posted by beakyjonjo on (December 18, 2010, 5:09 GMT)

while Bell does deserve plaudits for his improvement over the last year the reality is playing at number 6 has taken the pressure off him. For the same reason Ponting is failing now, Bell found it difficult batting up the order because the ball is newer, the bowlers fresher and the pressure more intense. Yes coming to the crease with your team 4 for 95 means you are under some pressure. But you already know that if you fail four other guys have failed before you and now your job is potential rescuer rather than the player that is required to establish the innings. Ponting should take a leaf out of Tendulkars book and drop down to at least number four and take the pressure off himself. As for collingwood england have always needed his determination in the middle order. I dare say had North this quality he would still be in the team.

Posted by sammykent on (December 18, 2010, 2:01 GMT)

Collingwood has taken two crucial catches in the last two tests that I think many of the other players would not have got a sniff at. Combine that with his ability to hold up an end whilst the four bowlers get a rest, or change ends, and he is a valuable asset. I think he would be fine at 6 or even 7. Bell needs more time at the crease so a promotion to 5 would be a great idea. I would not move the top four in favour of Bell as he seems well suited to tough situations and the top 4 are working well.

Posted by righthandbat on (December 18, 2010, 1:54 GMT)

England would do well to drop Finn and Collingwood for the next test for Morgan and Bresnan, giving their batting more depth.

Strauss, Cook, Trott, Bell, Pietersen, Morgan, Prior, Bresnan, Swann, Tremlett, Anderson.

Promoting Bell to number 4 to protect Pietersen (who I've always thought is a natural number 5) I think is important.

Posted by Garp on (December 17, 2010, 23:42 GMT)

There was a general lack of concern and caring from most of the England batsmen yesterday after losing their wicket and that is the alarming but also reoccurring trend over the last 4 years plus when on tour and the wives and girlfriends are brought in. This is going to sound cold but until England either decide that they are going to go on tour to win and stay focused on that goal and not allow outside distractions (and bringing in family and friends after being away 5-6 weeks is going to be a distraction no matter who you are or what job you do) to figure into the equation until the goal is reached these batting collapses are going to keep happening. I will give Mitchel Johnson his props for regaining some of his form with bat and ball, but honestly I have seen Johnson bowl alot better and quicker. Most of the dismissals were soft by the batsmen, especially when you walk in after already losing 2 or 3 wickets in succession. It is not an under 300 score wicket.

Posted by stationmaster on (December 17, 2010, 23:13 GMT)

Morgan in for Collingwood. Colly looks rusty and out of ideas, bring in a guy full of ideas and ego - MORGAN ! He'll love it out there.

Posted by BlueyCollar on (December 17, 2010, 21:56 GMT)

It amazes me that middle order batsmen are even compared to top order batsmen. Batting against a new ball against fresh fast bowlers is twice as hard as a 50 overs old ball.In my opinion all the best batsmen in the world bat in the top 3 sometimes top 4. Leave Bell where he is.

Posted by evenflow_1990 on (December 17, 2010, 21:12 GMT)

i think bell should bat at 4, because i'm concerned that pietersen's weaknesses are amplified by the swinging ball. if bell bats at 4 he'll handle the swing and seam well enough, and when pietersen comes out there will be less pressure on him. i actually think it would be better for both of them.

Posted by   on (December 17, 2010, 20:28 GMT)

Agreed about Collingwood only performing when he's about to be axed. A bit like Clarke. There should be NO place for players of this nature because you have to question their loyalty to their team. They only perform when they are in trouble not when the team is. Collingwood should be axed. He is too unreliable.

Posted by   on (December 17, 2010, 20:18 GMT)

Bell is in the form of his life. But at the moment Trott is best suited at 3. Bell can be prommoted above Paul and this will serve good for England cricket. Put your best batsmen ahead.

Posted by   on (December 17, 2010, 19:26 GMT)

Australia hav to win this one and they r BACK ;)

Posted by phoenixsteve on (December 17, 2010, 18:30 GMT)

Bell is a class act...fact. I agree there is a case for promotion and would put him in at 4 with KP at 5 and Colly at 6. Talk of axing Colly is absurd, the guy is just having a lean run and what price do you put on his fielding contributions? Ricky Ponting would love to see him gone; I'm sure and who knows how many runs Punter would have gone on to score in the first innings - but for THAT catch? Colly is a fighter and an invaluable member of the side and I believe his bowling is seriously underated! Sure he's no Mitchel Johnson (nore was Mitchell Johnson a week ago) or Jimmy Anderson , but he's often the guy to end stalemates between bat and ball and expose the oppositions 'soft underbelly'....... Speaking of soft Bellies maybe Ian has finally put to rest that particular label! COME ON ENGLAND!!!

Posted by jackiethepen on (December 17, 2010, 17:59 GMT)

Sky reminded us that Bell's highest scoring averages have been at No 5. There has always been a mystery as to why Flower decided that Bell should bat at 6 after the Oval and Colly at 5, although Bell got a crucial 72 in that game and Colly failed. Before Bell's ill-fated elevation to 3 under the Pietersen regime, Bell batted at 5 and Colly at 6. He got his highest score 199 at Lords v SA at No 5. I agree that he could have contributed far more runs if he had enjoyed stable partnerships at Brisbane and Perth. I was in Australia and saw him bat at Adelaide with wonderful composure. His time has surely come. Why doesn't Flower and England take advantage of it? Gooch has hinted that Bell will move up the order given the progress he has made. Make a start by putting him back to 5.

Posted by topeleven on (December 17, 2010, 17:22 GMT)

I agree that Bell should play up the order in this form. It takes a lot of pressure from KP and Colly and also the scoring rate will be good if bell comes at no 4 or 5. May be England can try this out in chasing the target at WACA. My order of batting is Strauss, Cook, Trott, Bell, Collingwood, Pietersen,Prior, Swann,Anderson,Tremlett,Finn.

Posted by landl47 on (December 17, 2010, 17:21 GMT)

Bell's playing very well at #6. As long as England are winning, I'd leave him there, on the basis that you don't fix something that isn't broken. However, Colly is the oldest man in the England side and will be 35 at the start of the next English season. Sooner rather than later he'll have to be replaced and that would be the ideal time to move Bell up to 5 and bring in Morgan at 6.

Posted by   on (December 17, 2010, 17:00 GMT)

Bell is pure class right now - in the form of his life maybe.

Posted by   on (December 17, 2010, 16:50 GMT)

collingwood may be a bit out of form, but he is currently the only allrounder in the team and provides 5th bowling option and excellent fielder. Eng should presist with him but at no.6

Posted by amitava0112 on (December 17, 2010, 15:48 GMT)

From the moment I saw highlights of Ian Bells 76 in 1st inng at the Gabba & Colly's recent run of mediocre performances..I was convinced that Bell should immediately go up the order-at 5 if not 3 (for which he is ideal). He has always looked a classy player & poccessed lot of shots..but england selectors at traditionally very slow in identifying true talent compared to their other counterparts..Yes there were some issues with him on temperament grounds but his talent was never in question..& presently he looks a class player with crisp shots all around the park & solid defence,great footwork & superb technique vs short pitched stuff-playing with soft hands when reqd (as he showed in WACA 2day).In due course he shd bat at 3 as he looks a complete player & destined for greatness..i think his batting is one of the highlights of this ashes series already though he is yet to get a 100 here. am glad to see this article about him & also Ian chappells comments about him.

Posted by Finn92 on (December 17, 2010, 15:48 GMT)

People said Colly was finished in 2008 against South Africa but he churned out a career saving century and he played huge roles in the three great escapes of the past year but maybe he does play better if the axe is hovering above him. I don't think Morgan is the answer, James Hildreth deserves a chance and Bell definitley should go up to 5 and Colly should concentrate on batting with the tail

Posted by r1m2 on (December 17, 2010, 14:59 GMT)

Andrew is slipping again. It took one sub-200 innings, thanks mostly due to Johnson finding form, and now already there are already talks to revisit tried-and-failed scenarios. Bell does not like #3. Bell prefers lower middle order. This is what I've been hearing all throughout the time when Bell was consistently being pushed in at #3 and failing. There were all the talks of how Bell is a natural #6. Now that he's finally found the spot he likes the most and is doing well and right away we want to push him up. WHAT THE HECK IS THIS? Also not to mention that Trott owned Australia so far, and he's just had ONE low inning. Let's hope the England team this time around is not as feeble as these so called 'fans' and 'supporters' of theirs.

Anyways, for me Ashes just came back to life. I think England can still win, if Johnson remains the only demon in the Aussie bowling line up and their batsmen continue to perform as they have done so far. English bowling remains quite balanced and good.

Posted by   on (December 17, 2010, 14:51 GMT)

Yes. 4 or 5 is where he belongs. 3 is too high, and Trott does belong there. You could make an argument to put him at 4 (he has the ability to bat at 4), but personally, I like KP in that spot. So 5 has to be the spot for Bell.

Posted by Jimmers on (December 17, 2010, 14:31 GMT)

He's had scores of chances at number three and never made the most of it. The reason he's at six is because that's where he scores the most runs, even though he often ends up marshalling the tail. I think there is a case for putting him up tp five, but his record is no stronger than Collingwood's really, I'm quite happy with things as they are.

Posted by cricketdebator on (December 17, 2010, 13:44 GMT)

This article by Mr. miller has thrilled my heart since I have argued among my friends that Ian bell is the best batsman in England. Now I feel vindicated by his performance. KEEP GOING BELL, AND SHOW THESE BLOKES WHAT BATSMANSHIP IS ALL ABOUT.

Posted by _NEUTRAL_Fan_ on (December 17, 2010, 13:33 GMT)

He's a class player, always thought he was underachieving but had it in him to blossom eventually, however, he has made the lower order place his own and he is more successful there and there has to be a reason for that. The most I would say is play him above Collingwood.

Posted by danmcb on (December 17, 2010, 13:16 GMT)

Agree entirely. He should have been at 4 or 5 today, might have gained us 100 runs.

Posted by Stephen_P on (December 17, 2010, 13:14 GMT)

Well said. Bell is pure class; in every single way a better batsman than Collingwood. To swap the two would release Collingwood from a modicum of pressure and reduce the chance of the one reason that Bell has looked like getting out in this series; running out of partners.

Personally, I'd drop Collingwood for Morgan. You should have players at number 6 who can turn a game. Morgan can turn an innings around, and anyone who thinks that even these Australians would have any fears seeing Collingwood striding to the crease are kidding themselves. But if that's not an option - England should shuffle.

Posted by   on (December 17, 2010, 13:11 GMT)

"Bell alone possessed the technique to deal with his devastating late swerve." What rubbish, he was cut in half at least 5 times, he was just luckey enough to miss the edge.

Posted by anver777 on (December 17, 2010, 12:37 GMT)

If Bell bats @ no.3 Eng can take maximum use of him bc he's capable of scoring big hundreds.Few years back when he was in good knick was a regular no.3 for Eng & had scored heavily......so its not a bad idea to promote him !!!!!! a CLASSIC player

Posted by 2.14istherunrate on (December 17, 2010, 12:18 GMT)

Bell is not a three. it's time to forget that .Four has to be KP. There is no possible argument for changing that, so it's 5 or 6 for Bell. Collingwood is in bad trot. But who is not to say that the very shadow of the axe will not motivate him. But,yes, Bell should get 5 probably. A certain already famous leaping salmon catch will probably save Colly for now.Those catches do win matches. But Morgan is popular with the fans. He is a natural entertainer above and beyond most. The hard work begins today for England as this is a match NOT to lose.

Posted by Something_Witty on (December 17, 2010, 12:14 GMT)

Yep. He looks a class above the rest of the English batsmen at the moment. - And in start contrast to Alistair Cook, is actually a very attractive and stylish batsman with a lot of charisma at the crease.

Posted by Dod101 on (December 17, 2010, 12:02 GMT)

Finally someone who agrees with me! For a long time I have been annoyed that they put bell down at six. I would personally prefer him at number three but at the very least he should be at five and ahead of Collingwood.

Comments have now been closed for this article

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Andrew Miller Andrew Miller was saved from a life of drudgery in the City when his car caught fire on the way to an interview. He took this as a sign and fled to Pakistan where he witnessed England's historic victory in the twilight at Karachi (or thought he did, at any rate - it was too dark to tell). He then joined Wisden Online in 2001, and soon graduated from put-upon photocopier to a writer with a penchant for comment and cricket on the subcontinent. In addition to Pakistan, he has covered England tours in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, as well as the World Cup in the Caribbean in 2007
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