The Ashes 2013-14

New conditions don't worry us

It was good to get away from cricket after a hectic summer, but you soon started itching to start again. Now we are in Australia the excitement is growing ahead of a fantastic challenge

Ian Bell

October 31, 2013

Comments: 16 | 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
Another five-Test series will test us physically and mentally, but it's a wonderful opportunity we have © Getty Images
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Series/Tournaments: England tour of Australia
Teams: England

It's pretty rare as an England player that you have the opportunity for a couple of months off. Certainly I had never been given a series off before and it was a bit of a surprise - a welcome surprise in the circumstances - to be rested from the ODI series against Australia.

The first few weeks were great. It had been a long summer and the chance to spend some time with my family was much appreciated. I really didn't do anything other than rest for a couple of weeks.

But, after a while, the urge to play cricket again became overwhelming. I've had a couple of nets with Graham Gooch but, when the team got together for the weekend a few days ahead of flying out, it was the first time I had seen the guys for seven or eight weeks.

It's important to have these team-building exercises. While most of us know each other pretty well, there are three uncapped players in the squad and such get-togethers help them bed-in and get to know everyone before the serious stuff starts. We tend to keep the details of these trips private, but I can say that, in the fitness tests, we were, as a group, fitter and stronger than we had been before the series in the summer. That has to be a great platform for the challenges ahead.

One of those new players is my Warwickshire team-mate Boyd Rankin. Boyd has come on leaps and bounds in the last year or so and really could turn out to be one of the stars of this series. He has serious pace now and, alongside his height and his skills, presents tough challenges for a batsman.

Boyd made a massive decision a year or so ago to retire from Ireland to give himself a chance of playing Test cricket for England. That was not an easy thing for him to do - he has been a great servant of Irish cricket and it meant a lot to him - but the decision has been vindicated by the fact that he has been able to play that little bit less often, he has had the time to get fitter and stronger and he can now bowl quicker spells for longer. His selection for England is, I hope, a source of pride for everyone involved in Irish cricket.

What do we expect in Australia? A really tough challenge. The 3-0 score line might not show it, but everyone in the team knows how much we had to fight to win the series in England and, in Australia, I expect it to be even harder. In my experience, the pitches in Australia are usually just very good. There is some talk about them having some extra pace or bounce, but that isn't a worry at all. Just look at our top order: nearly all of them are more comfortable on the back foot and our bowling attack will be equally happy. The success of our top three batsmen was key last time and I would expect that to be a crucial area once again.

Either way, the ability to adapt is a key requirement of a Test team. By winning in India and Australia, we have shown what we can do and we have a nice experienced spine through the side that bodes well. Five of our top seven are likely to be the same as when we won in Australia in 2010-11, while three of the four bowlers - Graeme Swann, James Anderson and Stuart Broad - have all taken over 200 Test wickets.

The success of our bowling attack instils great confidence in the rest of the team. Over the last three or four years, they have shown they have the skills to adapt and bowl sides out in pretty much any conditions. It means we are never out of games and go into every match knowing we are capable of winning.

There may be talk in the media about winning our fourth Ashes series in succession or me and Kevin Pietersen winning a fifth Ashes series, but there has been none of that among the players. We can't look that far ahead. We have to focus on the present and work hard to combat the challenges we know we will face.

One of the ways in which modern players are much better looked after is the way the ECB allows our families to join us on tour. We have six weeks at the start just as a team - which is probably right as people will still be getting to know one another - but then the families join us for four or five weeks. Then they go home and we have another five weeks or so to play the ODI series. That period in the middle really breaks it up, though, and gives us a great balance.

That's not to say that anyone is complaining about our schedule. Yes, we will have played 17 Tests in 13 or 14 months by the end of the India series next summer and yes, that is demanding. But it is also uniquely exciting and, as someone who grew up wanting to represent England in big games, the prospect of playing back-to-back Ashes series is a wonderful opportunity. There is a great mood around the squad right now and a sense that we're very fortunate to be doing what we're doing.

We confident but not complacent, excited but focussed and keen to get going but aware there is a long journey ahead. We know Australia are going to come at us hard, but we're ready.

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

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by dunger.bob on (November 1, 2013, 23:37 GMT)

Bells comments seem pretty focussed and grounded in reality but I can almost hear the confidence in his words. And, why wouldn't he and his team mates be confident. They've got the wood on us and even though he took care to talk us up a bit it's hard to see any reason for them to be unduly worried about what we can throw at them.

As you may have guessed, I'm not exactly chocka-block full of optimism about our prospects. This is how I see it.

It's crucial that we keep the top 4 under control. Any of Cook, Trott or KP can bat us out of the match before we even get to the likes of Bell. Harris is fine, he's just a damn good bowler and he will do his bit while ever he's fit but then it starts to get scary. It looks as though Mitch will play and that's a real problem I'd say. With a white ball MJ is one of the best going around but he's got a lot to prove with the red ball in my eyes. The Englishmen must be salivating to be honest. .. Unfortunately, Mitch is the key to this. God help us.

Posted by JG2704 on (November 1, 2013, 10:36 GMT)

@Mitty - Of course Bell was the difference in the batting but England had 3 of the top 4 wicket takers in the series so there's a difference there too. You know if you've read my comms that I'm not one who thinks 3-0 reflected the difference between the 2 teams but forgive me if I see it as not just luck and Bell. I'm advocating the "form is temporary..." thing but my point nis in response to your comms indicating that Trott,Cook and co will struggle again. Of course they could but it's surely just as likely they'll do ok, That's why I mentioned Bell's general poor form over the last few years in response to your suggestion that he's a class above the rest of our batsmen. He was in the last series but hasn't been in the last few years. My whole response is to your suggestions that "this will happen" because it happened in the last Ashes series

Posted by Mitty2 on (November 1, 2013, 9:05 GMT)

@JG and @RU4REAL, yes, form is temporary but class is permanent blah blah blah, but in case you didn't notice Bell (and rain) was literally the only cause that the scoreline blew out to 3-0 (if another person says 'it should've been 4-0' when we declared twice and considering Eng's luck in the third test, I might have to explode) and if it weren't for him, Eng would've been in a lot of strife (you can say the same with Harris with us but that's not my point).

@RU4REAL, it's a good point on those batsmen working to counter those plans - which they certainly would have done - but their struggles were pretty big and certainly were not due to any complacency or whatever, but were technical problems. Newfound technical issues never work well on a batsmen's psyche - whatever their history. But on plans to Bell, we tried everything (except a third man for one innings) and really all his past problems are mental. With him being so confident, he, then KP are the biggest threats.

Posted by jackiethepen on (October 31, 2013, 12:15 GMT)

A 24 flight gives serious jet lag. All these players will be recovering and getting used to the time difference of 12 or so hours. Your night becomes your day. These bowlers seem under pressure to perform, maybe there are too many of them being tested in this way too soon. I seem to remember in the last Ashes the second string bowlers were given a warm up game in the middle of the Series. It's the same for the batsmen. We must expect them all to be a bit rusty too. Good job there are 3 games to warm up.

Posted by jmcilhinney on (October 31, 2013, 10:57 GMT)

@R_U_4_REAL_NICK on (October 31, 2013, 9:11 GMT), the reason that England are playing without a spinner is that they know for a fact that, barring injury, Swann will be the spinner for the first Test and the entire series, while there are a number of question marks over their pace attack. They're not really sure who will join Anderson and Broad in the first Test and it's highly likely that one or more of the others will be required at some stage through the series, so they're trying to get as much game time into all of them as possible.Presumably only the best of Finn, Tremlett and Rankin will be playing in the next game and the other two will make way for Swann and Broad.

Posted by Beertjie on (October 31, 2013, 10:51 GMT)

Excellent analysis of England strengths and weaknesses @Bonehead_maz on (October 31, 2013, 7:00 GMT). Don't expect Bresnan or Pattinson before MCG (maybe WACA?). If Bird were fit we wouldn't need MJ, but I guess we'll just have to take a chance on him. Hazlewood looks a bit underdone atm. Hope Lynn has a great Shield. I'd then take him to SA as an extra batsman in the squad.

Posted by R_U_4_REAL_NICK on (October 31, 2013, 10:45 GMT)

@Myself: Monty is ill... suddenly remember reading so in the preview yesterday.

@Mitty2: Strange logic there indeed. You pretty much state that a fantastic series by one player (Bell) automatically makes him the biggest threat in the next series, but a poor previous series by players (Cook, Trott, Prior) means they'll simply continue that poor form. Don't you think that the Australians will have done some homework on Bell and worked on new plans? Don't you think batsmen like Cook/Trott/Prior will have worked hard on those "flaws / well-laid plans" to hopefully counteract them more this new series?

Posted by Front-Foot-Sponge on (October 31, 2013, 9:29 GMT)

Let England's demise and Australia's resurgence begin. The previous series is history, England are in for a long, unsuccessful tour. Of course, it's just speculation, the cricket will do all the unravelling for us :-)

Posted by JG2704 on (October 31, 2013, 9:18 GMT)

@Mitty2 on (October 31, 2013, 4:44 GMT) - Why are you saying Bell is by far the biggest threat in this series? He was immense in the last Ashes series but since India 2011 it was the only the 2nd series where he's probably even been in the top 5 performer with the bat? All the batsmen have to up their games in this series and maybe the Aus bowlers will again come out on top but do you seriously think that the form from the last series indicates how good these players are?

Posted by R_U_4_REAL_NICK on (October 31, 2013, 9:11 GMT)

Never understood going into a test/warm-up without a specialist spinner, especially England who's seamers can become too metronomic. Why not give Monty a twirl in the warm-up to at least TRY to mix things up more?

For Australia, what this game is showing is that there ARE much better openers out there than Warner that need to be drafted in to test cricket immediately.

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