The Ashes 2013-14 October 31, 2013

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

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