Tears, drama and disagreements all worth it for Lauren Bell

England seamer starts to see rewards of revamping her action while playing on the international stage

Valkerie Baynes
Valkerie Baynes
Heather Knight and Lauren Bell wait for the rain to stop, England vs New Zealand, 3rd Women's ODI, Bristol, July 3, 2024

Heather Knight and Lauren Bell wait for the rain to stop  •  Getty Images

Tears, drama and disagreements… but it all felt worth it as Lauren Bell claimed her maiden international five-wicket haul to help seal a 3-0 sweep for England in their ODI series against New Zealand.
Speaking after her figures of 5 for 37 from nine overs had helped contain an improved White Ferns batting performance, Bell went into detail for the first time about the difficulties of remodelling her bowling action while playing on the international stage.
"It's been a tricky few months, so yeah, it was nice to come out of today with some real success, it was a great day," Bell said, after half-centuries from Nat Sciver-Brunt and Amy Jones had helped ensure her efforts did not go to waste. "I got back from the series in New Zealand and we just thought to push my career on, make me a better bowler, we'd changed a few things with my action.
"But obviously when you bowl a certain way for however long, it has been tricky. I don't really have a training block, I've just been playing, but it's definitely for the best in the long term and I guess today shows that it is going to push me forward. But yeah, it is obviously hard doing it on an international stage."
Bell returned from England's tour of New Zealand earlier this year with a remit to bowl more upright, and an emerging by-product of that has been an ability to swing the ball both ways.
Hints were there during successful her white-ball series against Pakistan at the start of the English summer and Heather Knight, England's captain, lauded Bell and others for their bravery in trying new things in match situations.
And while Bell's wickets on Wednesday - her first five-wicket haul since she played at Under-15 level - largely came from a back-of-a-length, top-of-the-stumps approach, the tall seamer said she had felt immense support from her team-mates and England's coaching staff throughout the process.
"I fell away a lot, and so we thought if we could get me more upright, it'd be safer. It means I can bowl more and it means I should be quicker and from being taller I get more bounce," she explained. "So it came from that point of view initially, to add pace to my bowling, pace and bounce, and leading me to be more upright allowed me to then be able to swing it both ways.
Key among her supporters has been England Women's fast bowling coach Matt Mason.
"I think he would've felt like a proud dad today," Bell said. "There's been tears, there's been drama, there's been disagreements. We work really closely and he's put in a lot of time to get me here.
"I think my bowling coach knew that one thing was going to lead to another," she added. "I guess it got really exciting and now it's just honing in on the consistency of being able to swing it both ways and bowl a wobble-ball obviously. It's something I'm just going to learn, but hopefully in the long run will be really exciting.
"The breakthrough, lightbulb we've had in the last couple of weeks has been a lot to do with the mental side of it and how I approach it in a game. Training's been great, but you get to a game and it's a totally different story, so I've done a lot of work on my focus and my concentration. I think I've gone in two-feet, I'm in now, there's not really any turning back. So I'm committed to it and I know it's for the best.
"I've gone a long time not really having to think much about how I bowl. Now, my change in action, I very much have to concentrate on it, so I've learned that I need to focus and I've got a couple of cues that help me with that. I reset every ball and I focus in on my cues. It is a bit of a routine that I've picked up in the last couple of months that I think will take me a long way, especially in pressure situations."
Bell, who is just 23, made her England debut in the 2022 Test against South Africa at Taunton, where she was presented with her cap by Anya Shrubsole, the World Cup-winning seamer who had just retired at the time and for whom Bell was seen as a replacement.
Since then, she has played three Tests, 14 ODIs and 20 T20Is and is seen as a linchpin of England's seam attack, which has made it all the more difficult for her see beyond the short-term effects on output, and focus on long-term benefits - until now.
"I definitely haven't been used to having a few games in a row not quite going my way," Bell said. "But everyone I've spoken to has said, unfortunately that is what professional sport is, whether it's because you've changed something or you just go through a tough patch of form, it's going to happen and it's probably going to happen again, and it happens to the best players in the world. It's another experience I've got under my belt that should push me forward in the future."

Valkerie Baynes is a general editor, women's cricket, at ESPNcricinfo