Ian Bell is almost certain to make his return to Test cricket on his home ground at Edgbaston next week, as a replacement for Kevin Pietersen, who has been ruled out of the series after undergoing surgery on his right Achilles tendon. However, Bell admitted that he would rather not be back in the side under such circumstances, and would much rather Pietersen was still in the side to guide England's Ashes campaign.
Bell was dropped by England following their embarrassing first-Test defeat in Jamaica in February, but has been in fine form for Warwickshire this season, with 640 runs at 80.00 in eight first-class outings prior to the latest round of the County Championship. He was named as the spare batsman for both Tests against Australia at Cardiff and Lord's, and England's coach, Andy Flower, confirmed yesterday that he was the obvious man to turn to next.
That prospect seems increasingly likely, with Pietersen now set to spend six weeks on the sidelines after surgery. He admitted at the weekend that his injury had been playing on his mind "all day and every day", and having required four injections to get him onto the field at Lord's, he was still unable to move freely during two laboured innings of 32 and 44.
"I know this might sound strange but I want Kevin to be playing for England," Bell told reporters at the Rose Bowl, prior to the news of Pietersen's withdrawal. "He is our No. 1 batsman and, being the professional I know he is, I am sure he is desperate to play through the series if he possibly can.
"But if his injury proves beyond him, then I am just as desperate to play. Having faced the Aussies before I know what to expect from them, and once you have appeared at Test level you want to carry on playing against the best players in the world."
Bell's previous experiences against Australia have been mixed. In 2005, he entered the series with an unsustainable Test average of 297, after a run of unchallenging scores against West Indies and Bangladesh, and soon found out what the international game was really about as he struggled to seven single-figure scores in ten innings, including a pair in the series decider at The Oval.
Eighteen months years later in Australia, he improved his returns with fifties in four of the five Tests, but couldn't convert any of his starts to a century. The suspicion, after nearly five years as a Test cricketer, is that Bell remains temperamentally suspect, and liable to save his best performances for when the pressure is off, but the man himself is confident that, if the chance arises to reclaim his Test berth this summer, he is ready to seize it.
"In a way, being out of the Test side has helped refresh me and evaluate," said Bell. "I got some texts from the lads at Lord's after England had won and that made me still feel part of the international set-up. I have been in and around the team all summer and I know as far as batsmen are concerned, I am next in line.
"I am in great form at the moment so I would not worry about being called into the team, especially as it would be at Edgbaston. But I don't feel in any way excluded because these days there is so much international cricket that every country needs a big squad and you are going to get your chances."