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Ian Bell: The Batsman With A Thousand Faces

Today we have another guest article, this time by Geoffrey Bunting. It discusses an old TFT favourite, Mr Ian Bell. I should point out it was written before Bell was overlooked for England’s winter tours.

Thanks for this Geoffrey. It’s a thoughtful piece and I hope everyone enjoys it as much as I did. I guess none of us ever fully figured out Ian Bell. I certainly didn’t, much as I loved watching him play. 

Bristol, 2007: Ian Bell sets up. His bat is against his shoulder as he surveys the field, picking out the gaps – his gaze settles on extra cover. Munaf Patel paws at the ground at the end of his run up. Now Bell places the bat on the ground, the handle against his thigh as he re-straps his gloves. As a final touch to his routine, he pulls each of his sleeves up to his shoulders. Viewers across the country heave a collective sigh. That’s Pietersen’s move and we all know it: that arrogant tug of the sleeves as if his own form is too hot for even him to handle. When Bell does it, perhaps trying to channel some of Pietersen’s skill and flamboyance, it’s almost comical – like a child trying on their mother’s shoes.

We tend to remember shades of players. It’s Richards’ swagger, the arc of Ponting’s bat, the effortless grace of Laxman, that Trescothick and Sehwag hit the ball so hard without any perceptible footwork. The runs, for the most part, are the realm of statisticians, the rest of us remember more indelible features of our favourite players. Yes there are moments that stick in our minds, but when we recall a player it’s that certain something they possess that no other player does that stirs our memory. When Kevin Pietersen gave that nonchalant tug of his sleeves it was a small part of a wider picture of audacity and brilliance we etched into our minds the moment he put Glenn McGrath into the stands.

A batsman’s identity isn’t just defined by how we remember them, though. It’s also about how they view themselves and the comfort with which they do so. Alistair Cook has never been called an attractive batsman, but his self-assurance – something he appeared to possess from the start – allowed him to flourish, despite technical issues that might have derailed other players. You can add Graeme Smith, with his bullish confidence and closed bat face, into that category too.

But not everyone finds that sweet spot so quickly. It took Pietersen two countries and two counties to recognise he could hammer McGrath off his length, Graham Gooch famously made most of his runs after the age of thirty-three, and more recently Mark Stoneman spent several years averaging in the mid-twenties before discovering the confidence that sparked a run of form that earned him an England spot – before having that confidence knocked out of him at Perth.

This concept of identity – and how it relies so much on confidence – is at the heart of the relative enigma that became Ian Bell. When he tried on Pietersen’s mannerisms, we quickly lost the sense of who Ian Bell really was. In 2007’s Dan in Real Life, Juliette Binoche, upon discovering that her boyfriend has been feeding her compliments from his brother’s book, declares, “All his best lines were yours.” So too did much of Ian Bell’s England career bring to mind the best parts of other players. With a mixture of borrowed characteristics and efforts to fit into changing cultures, the real Ian Bell was buried deep beneath layers of shallow caricatures of Bell’s own making.

~

It all started against Australia in 2005. Before the series, Bell hit a classy half-century on debut against the West Indies, before smacking Bangladesh around Chester-le-Street for a maiden century in his third test. He looked like he had everything it took to have a long and successful test career – a beautiful technique, an unflustered dominance over bowlers, a visible hunger, and youth. He looked like a number three in waiting.

Then Warne tore up the script. Plenty of batsmen struggled against the greatest spinner ever, but few have seemed so at sea as Ian Bell in 2005. Warne giggled as he trapped him LBW – barely had to ask the umpire to lift the finger. If only we knew then, when he christened Bell The Shermanator, what we know now about Warne’s affinity for lowbrow American comedies. Warne exposed a timid side of Bell, made him Cullinan Mark Two, and, somewhere along the way, something snapped.

Maybe Bell was made fun of for being ginger at school, maybe that amplified the nagging memory of Warne’s giggle, but Bell began to emulate those around him – trying to exorcise the spirit of The Shermanator from his being. He starts with Pietersen: the upturned collar, the sleeve-pull. He would rather be a poor copy of England’s most gifted batsman than remain Warne’s walking wicket. Like a child acting tough in the face of a bully, Bell tries to shake the torment by borrowing someone else’s swagger.

It doesn’t stick. From then on there’s a sense that, no matter what he does, Bell always has at least one demon to banish. Much as Virat Kohli came into 2018 with a point to prove in England, there always seemed to be a flaw in Bell’s temperament that was readily exposed by pundits. A few years after becoming Warne’s plaything, they began to suggest that Bell couldn’t handle the pressure. He only made runs when someone else had done the hard work. To truly excel in the middle order, they said, he had to score ugly runs.

After a period as Pietersen, now Bell made play that he was Paul Collingwood – borrowing his Brigadier Block routine for a tour of South Africa. He keeps out the best they can throw at him for almost five hours in Cape Town, like a tree someone let take root in the crease. At times it’s hard to tell Bell and Collingwood apart as they bat together on the last day. England save the game, pundits laud the ugly runs and suggest he’s turned a corner – and yet there’s a feeling we’re still not really watching Ian Bell.

Over the next decade, he never really found a way back to the effortless and confident batsman that scored two-hundred and ninety-seven runs in his first three tests. His dismantling by Warne, and the insecurity it exposed within him, seemed to stick with him throughout his England career.

We caught glimpses, particularly in 2010/11 when he hit a long over-due double hundred against India, and again in 2013 when he hammered three beautiful hundreds against an unsettled Australia. Yet, even then, one felt that Bell was never really stamping out an agenda of his own, merely responding to those set out before him. While the crisp drives and excellent footwork were always there, somehow they didn’t feel like they belonged to him anymore – somewhere in the course of that series, Warne had taken them from him.

He had his Pietersen period, then the Collingwood phase, there was an ill-fitting beard to appear hardened in Strauss’ England, before he melted back into the dressing room shadows in Cook’s England. He batted everywhere from one to eight, and was one of the best close fielders in the game. Ian Bell took on every mantle thrust upon him and took on every bit of advice that suggested he be more affecting like Pietersen or more reliable like Collingwood. In many ways, Bell was the picture of the selfless team man, ready to take on any role. But these all felt like smokescreens masking the real problem: no one, including Bell himself, was pushing him to be Ian Bell.

At the end of his career, despite finishing as England’s top scorer in ODIs, it felt like Bell never reached his full potential. He wasn’t another Ramprakash or Hick, but finishing his career as a number six with an average approaching forty-three wasn’t reflective of the talent he came into international cricket with. After Warne ripped out his heart, his conquest to find a new identity in the characters of others never allowed him to consistently flourish. Much as a painter who makes excellent forgeries of Seurat or van Gogh is unlikely to be recognised as a great artist, so too did Bell’s inability to script his own story keep him from the pantheon of great test batsmen.

~

Recently, there’s been talk of how much England need another Jonathan Trott. With the top order in shambles – especially in the wake of Alistair Cook’s retirement – the test team requires a number three that can bat time and possesses a solid technique. The sentiment most often expressed is how much we have missed Jonathan Trott. Shoehorned into these discussions is the idea of recalling Ian Bell as a short-term solution. And yet we never talk about missing him, he feels interchangeable; a substitute for the real Trott who, were it not for his imminent retirement, we might be considering in Bell’s stead. Rather, it feels like a nostalgia for a period in which England’s batting was dominant, laced with sentimentality over Bell’s return to form. Put bluntly, in lieu of Trott – whom we miss – any of that top seven is viable to slake our nostalgia for better days. Bell just happens to be the only one left.

After enduring a difficult few years, in which he actively sought a recall, Bell seemed to find a measure of peace once he put his England aspirations away. After averaging 25.91 in a tormented 2017, Bell emerged from a lengthy break – during which he accepted his England days were over – refreshed and renewed. In interviews there was none of that nervous, stubborn energy common in international aspirants, just a relaxed honesty: “Listen, I’m thirty-six now. I think it has probably gone.”

Able to focus on his own runs, rather than how his tally compared to others around the country, Bell’s average soared in all competitions. Now it was no longer about showcasing his credentials to a pack of selectors, he could get back to scoring runs his way: elegant, dominant, without echoes of his peers. Once he stopped worrying about how to score them, he once again concerned himself only with how many.

There’s something compelling about the idea of a player who, throughout his career, struggled to foster a sense of security for himself returning to the England side to secure the top order. There’s a hint of the Cinderella story to it all. However, given the selectors’ current youth policy, such a call seems unlikely. That hasn’t stopped Bell, only three months after declaring he had let go of his England ambitions, from completing a U-turn most under pressure politicians would be proud of and stating he’s ready to return to the test side. It doesn’t matter that he’s finally found a place, among the old pros of county cricket. Once again the external pressures are too much for Bell to ignore. At thirty-six, it appears that Ian Bell has it in him for one last go at being what people want him to be.

Geoffrey Bunting

Geoffrey is a writer and designer, his website is here.

2018-10-02T10:35:19+00:00October 1st, 2018|Player Spotlight|38 Comments

38 Comments

  1. jennyah46 October 1, 2018 at 7:23 pm - Reply

    An interesting read and you could well be right, but we can’t know the inner workings of somebody else’s mind. I’ve always seen him simply as “Bell like”! His own man with his own frailties.

    I’ve always loved to watch him bat but I can’t really see him coming back at 3. He’s a number 5 or 6 where he excels and we are not short there.

    Let me rest. We might not miss him, but we remember him, fondly and well.

  2. James October 1, 2018 at 7:46 pm - Reply

    I’m afraid I’m one of the people who thinks Bell needs good players around him to play his best. I think he would struggle in the current England top order. I can see too many pretty 30’s and 40’s before getting out to a stupid shot just before lunch. That’s possibly better than the current team but it’s not enough. We need a tougher character.

  3. ScarvesandCelery October 1, 2018 at 8:32 pm - Reply

    Remember when England’s weakest (or at least, most frequently criticised) batsmen from the top 5 was a player who would go on to score 7700 test runs at 43, with 22 centuries? We had no idea how lucky we were at the time.

  4. Jackie Litherland October 1, 2018 at 8:59 pm - Reply

    Jesus where do you start? It’s riddled with inaccuracies. From the mindset of one who has never bothered to check this collection of hearsay and bias collated over the years? How many times have we heard this trundled out about Bell? Its inexcusable to be so inaccurate when you are delivering a so-called considered appraisal.

    Warne called Bell The Shermanator on the 2006-7 Tour when Bell and Cook were called up to play on the eve because of the sudden withdrawal of Trescothick and injury to Vaughan. Not 2005! Warne got Bell out twice on the later Tour. Hardly a bunny. Incidentally you missed Warne’s public apology to Bell – he had claimed that Bell had misread his delivery on one of those occasions. However he had intended it to go one way and the ball went another. He admitted that Bell had actually read the delivery correctly. It was just bad luck. So much for that.

    Bell didn’t get 3 centuries against Australia in 2010-11, he got his 3 tons in 2013 when the England top order failed. Clarke said his batting was the difference in the Ashes victory as the bowling was very good on both sides. Bell was man of the series awarded the Compton-Miller Medal.

    Bell didn’t finish his career as No 6. He was promoted to No 5 in 2011 after Colly retired. He batted at 3 against India in 2011 due to Trott’s injury and made a century and a double century to secure the Series. He batted 3 at Edgbaston in 2015 taking on the might of Aussie bowling in a low scoring green seamer. He turned the tide in England’s favour. Something he did at No 3 at the Oval in 2009 as well. He was batting at 3 in the Emirates against Pakistan which was notoriously tough Tour at the time (they had never lost) – he averaged 33 when dropped rather more than anyone else who has since replaced him.

    Where do you get your stats from? The Mind of eternally made up facts to suit an argument?

    The scorn you show for Bell’s batting at Capetown wasn’t shared by the media. He made 78 to Colly’s 40 and held on after Colly departed. Bell then at 3 had shown similar grit against Sri Lanka and also went on to bat at 4 for nearly 6 hours at Eden Park for 75. Prior does tend to get the credit but someone had to bat long.

    The ability to accumulate and stay at the crease when required as well as hit out when required was a mark of Bell’s batting. Hardly something to be criticised as a failure of identity. In his recent 2018 season he performed both types of batting. If only the current England applicants possessed the same ability!

    Cricketers who would not be too pleased at your appraisal would be Pietersen who outspokenly admired Bell’s batsmanship and Trott who delivered a eulogy to Bell on the eve of his own retirement. And was it Bopara who recently said Bell was the best batsman in England? He reiterated “England” not the “Championship”

    You don’t come back from dearth of form and disappointment to lead your team to bounce back to Div 1 without being a top player. Bell took both top Warwickshire awards: Players choice and Members choice – he was the Div 2 leading run scorer and only second to Finch in overall T20 runs.

    The tragedy of it all you have missed the most important thing about Bell and his batting. But if you haven’t got aesthetic sensibilities then there’s not much to be done. He’s a great player because his batting has sublime quality coupled with his longevity of run getting and matching winning contributions. Root said that Bell could do things with a bat he couldn’t do and that’s the highest praise. Ponting said he was a world class batsman.

    Warne (who ripped his heart out?) actually played against him only twice. In 2005 and 2006-7 and altogether he got Bell out 5 times in 20 innings. Are you seriously suggesting this unsettled Bell so much? The same Bell who top scored against Pakistan in 2005 Series away, straight after the Ashes, including a fine century and went on to get another 3 centuries against Pakistan in 2006?

    Bell didn’t need anyone else’s clothes. Like Gower before him, his batting is beautiful to watch. No one comes near him for style and elegance. And he’s not lost a jot of it. For your penance you should read the recent Paul Edwards report on Cricinfo which gives a far better understanding of the worth of Bell to English cricket. I hope there are still some youngsters out there who admire real grace under fire. Flintoff says his sons do.

    “If you want to understand who Ian Bell is, then you should watch him bat for an hour. One thought of the occasion some 27 summers ago when the late Neal Abberley, then the county’s batting coach, saw the nine-year-old from Coventry for the first time and wondered what the Gods had sent him. Batting is what Bell was put on earth to do and when he plays as he did at Hove on the first day of this game he shares his joy with others. It distracts the mind from the many recessionals of autumn; its graceful images remain when points and results are both forgotten.” (Paul Edwards)

    That’s Bell’s identity. The whole article has wonderful touches about his elegance. It’s a shame that Bell has always been dogged by philistine detractors. Maybe that is part of the price he has to pay for such grace. Cricketers know they can’t bat like Bell but they’re happy to watch and admire. He’s really a batsman’s batsman.

    You are quite right about one thing, Bell had to face continuous scorn and criticism from the media and the troll camps. I think we’ve learnt a bit more now about the dark side of social media and its violations of the truth for the sake of sneering and other pastimes. Fake news it’s called now. The Telegraph had its notorious columnists which led the way. KP was to bear the brunt of it. But he had a supporter in Bell who refused to agree England was better without him. That’s not timidity in anyone’s book. That’s sticking to the truth and being honest when it could cost you your place.

    • James Morgan October 2, 2018 at 8:31 am - Reply

      Hi Jackie. Your response suggests that Geoffrey has assassinated Bell. I don’t think that’s the case at all. My memory tells me the Sherminator thing began in 2005, a series in which Bell struggled, but if it was a year later I don’t think it matters that much. I’m not too fussed if he finished his career at 5 or 6 either. It’s still middle-order rather than top order.

      Bell was a fine player. One of my favourite England batsmen. But he was far from perfect. And I think an examination of his mind (speculative though this approach is) is warranted. He did used to get out softy at bad moments (although who doesn’t) and I don’t think he quite fulfilled his potential. He was an absolute titan in that 2013 Ashes series, and he was indeed the difference between the sides. I remember thinking ‘wow, Bell has finally become one of the best players in the world’ but thereafter he regressed again somewhat. For some reason, he just never quite scored the runs he was capable of. Why? It certainly wasn’t technical so it must have been mental.

      Obviously Bell was a fine international player. But his temperament, call is what you like, did prevent him from being an even better player. The fact someone like Alastair Cook scored more runs at a higher average, despite possessing half Bell’s talent, tell us that very clearly.

      I’ve never heard anyone, ever, say that Bell wasn’t a fine player. One would have to be blind not to see his quality. Therefore the criticism stems purely from frustration – frustration that he wasn’t even better. This is both a compliment and a criticism of course.

      I think overall, perhaps, the criticism Bell gets is over-egged. But we can’t pretend these criticisms came from nowhere and were purely a media invention or merely the result of hearsay. Opinion are mostly formed, overall, by cricket fans watching a player closely over the years. Bell’s soft dismissals somehow linger in the memory. I’m not sure why. But equally his greatest innings also linger in the memory. I guess that’s why he’s a player who creates such good debate.

    • AndyB October 2, 2018 at 12:02 pm - Reply

      The worst error is the suggestion the poor 2017 was down to retaining England hopes. It was far more down to the problem of captaining a Warwickshire side which was aging and without any opener better than club standard. I guess the authors knowledge of Edgbaston is limited.

  5. Doug M October 1, 2018 at 9:25 pm - Reply

    Yes but you can’t keep going on about a players stats from over 5 years to 10 years ago, and at the age of 36 I think has no possibility of a test recall. One of my favourite players but apart from this season against some seriously weak Div 2 teams, he has hardly set the world on fire for a long while. As bad as England’s top order has been, you can’t go backwards to players of the past who have happened to have had a good season, and yes I’d include Denley in the same category, last played an ODI in 2009! It’s just trying to plug a gap, but it has no lasting merit.

    • Jackie Litherland October 1, 2018 at 11:21 pm - Reply

      I’m responding and disagreeing with an article which contained manifold errors. I didn’t choose the scope of it. I don’t really understand your point about seriously weak teams. Kent, Sussex and Middlesex were all contenders. Middlesex actually Div 1 champions a couple of seasons ago. Durham sporadically played some good cricket. Conditions in spring and early summer and late autumn were testing for batsmen whoever they were playing. When Cook got all his County centuries in Div 2 I don’t remember anyone saying they didn’t count. Bell had to put up with nit pickers with double standards of course. Too old at 36? If merit had anything to do with it he would have been picked ahead of Denly. Is Anderson too old? If you’re good enough. That’s the criterion. Long term planning? Since when?

      • Doug M October 2, 2018 at 6:28 am - Reply

        Warwickshire by a mile the best, but Middlesex have been awful this year. Sussex and Kent ok I’d agree, but the rest, oh dear. The ECB has ruined Durham, they’ve got no players, and just about everyone else would be in Div 3 if there was one. If as you say merit had anything to do with it, Hildreth has scored loads of runs in Div 1 this season at an average of 42 but is continually ignored. And Anderson has been a regular test player in the side anyway, and yes will need replacing soon if England flog him to death needlessly in Sri Lanka.

        • Jackie Litherland October 2, 2018 at 7:49 am - Reply

          As a Durham member I’m only too aware of the ECB skullduggery but there are signs of renewal. Warwickshire by a mile yes but they had two tough games against Durham. I watched Durham thrash Sussex by the way. They are inconsistent as you would expect for a cobbled together side but there’s real steel which flashes every now and again. Couldn’t be more proud of Colly for his loyalty. Such players are becoming increasingly rare. Bell is old school re the Bears too. It’s good to see.

  6. James Wilson October 1, 2018 at 9:49 pm - Reply

    I never understood why Bell was chosen ahead of Thorpe for the 2005 Ashes; the selectors were so out to lunch they thought the choice was Thorpe or KP. It seemed obvious that Bell was too green (KP was very obviously something special so normal considerations didn’t apply) but the old stager Thorpe would have been a safer bet. By the Oval Bell looked lost. But then the Ashes wouldn’t have been the legendary series it was if England had won by wider margins.

    By the return series he had matured enough to earn the respect of McGrath, and at his peak was properly world class (“great” would be overdoing it). But England shouldn’t be looking back, they need to look forward, and for that reason Bell was rightly not considered for this year.

    • Jackie Litherland October 1, 2018 at 11:02 pm - Reply

      Bell wasn’t chosen ahead of Thorpe. Bell was already in the Test side and played alongside Thorpe. The question for selectors was whether Pietersen should replace Thorpe who had already announced he was retiring to work in Australia post Ashes. Thorpe’s retirement was partly induced by a problem with his back. Bell did have a tough debut Ashes apart from his back to back 50s at Old Trafford. His fielding however was rated the best of both sides particularly at short leg where he excelled for seven years.

      • James Wilson October 2, 2018 at 7:06 am - Reply

        I’m sorry but that is both factually incorrect and misses the point – exactly as the selectors did. The point was Thorpe had been injured and KP had done some extraordinary things in ODIs in South Africa, so the selectors wondered if he should be chosen not Thorpe – entirely ignoring whether Bell was ready to face Warne & McGrath on the basis of huge scores against weak opposition. KP and Bell were chosen ahead of Thorpe who then announced his retirement – not until he had been told he was not in the side.

        • Jackie Litherland October 2, 2018 at 8:18 am - Reply

          You might like to rewrite history but facts are sacred. Thorpe did not respond by announcing his retirement in response to being dropped. He had already informed the selectors which came out as being part of their considerations. Bell and Thorpe had played together against Bangladesh. Bell had played well against them and the West Indies when selected. This is a ridiculous argument. Both Bell and KP were on the radar of selectors. Given their subsequent careers they were quite right as Thorpe has graciously acknowledged. However the Test newcomer to replace Thorpe was KP. Bell having a hard time at 22 is nothing to do with it. That Ashes was a turning point for England after years of losing the urn. But it is the toughest Test Series. Ask all those England players who failed over the years. The fact that Bell went on to be man of the Series in 2013 is a massive accomplishment. Without him England could have lost that Series. England should never have agreed to play back to back Ashes. The strain destroyed one of our best ever sides. Australia became the nasty team which made them infamous under Boof. They finally got their comeuppance. Let’s keep cricket free of lies and mental disintegration. Otherwise we will lose fans. Cricketers deserve to be respected. It’s a very tough sport with maximum exposure. Not surprising that so many suffer from nerves and depression. Hostile media and fans add to the pressure. Surviving that is rare. Thats why longevity in Test players is a sign of character. Both Thorpe and Bell passed that test.

          • James Morgan October 2, 2018 at 8:41 am - Reply

            I remember being really worked up about this at the time. Thorpe was expecting to play in the Ashes. He had a procedure on his back (I think it was a cortisone injection) so he would be ready for one last hurrah against the Aussies. So when they picked Bell / KP it was a real kick in the teeth. I think Thorpe discusses this in his book. He decided to retire once he knew he was not going to be involved.

            The decision to pick Bell in 2005 was purely down to Duncan Fletcher, who had fallen in love with Bell after watching him in the nets a lot. He had written Bell’s name down to bat at 4 in the Ashes in permanent ink. Therefore it became a choice between Thorpe and KP to bat 5.

            This was one of Fletcher’s few errors of judgement. He was so focused on Bell being the golden child, and so determined that he would bat 4, that he never asked himself ‘which are the two best batsmen of the three’. It was simply never a question he asked. I remember thinking this was pure madness at the time as Thorpe had an excellent Ashes record and clearly should have played alongside KP (with Bell is reserve).

            • Jackie Litherland October 2, 2018 at 7:25 pm - Reply

              You should check ou James Wilson below who has provided a link to a Graveney interview at the time which proves I was right in every detail including that the selectors knew Thorpe would not be available after the Ashes. The rest is just preposterous. The only coach who ever favoured Bell and believed he had a good cricket brain was Moores.
              Bell finished his career at 3 not “5 or 6”. It helps to get facts right before you speculate. As for the “Sherminator” wrongly spelt – it was a geeky character in film American Pie – it was a sledge from 2006-7 not maybe. Why don’t you check things out? I think Warne ripping his heart out is just drivel. There used to be a YouTube favourite video of Bell and Cook despatching Warne to the rope and into the stands at the WACA in 2006. Good viewing. It was called The Future Of English Cricket. Cook got a ton and Bell nearly 90.
              You do realise that most cricketers get out Bell not the exception? You may feel exasperated but the requirement to always score runs is rarely met. It’s the scrutiny which is not evenly applied. It’s a human flaw to criticise some more than others. Ask any teacher.
              Gower complained recently that he was always criticised for soft dismissals because he made batting look easy. But he said, it wasn’t easy. It was very hard. And he had to work very hard to make it look effortless. Bell is gifted no doubt but that means nothing without continuous work. He didn’t have the support given to Cook through thick and thin. Few did. Bell certainly wasn’t a Flower favourite during his reign. And the media made fun of his hair highlights or everything for that matter. Criticism of one kind or another was never out of the headlines. It was media bullying but Bell did a good job of ignoring it for his England career. If all the lights were green and he had been rested not dropped in 2015 the likelihood is Bell would have added a few more centuries to his total. That’s lost history – he would have achieved more – but instead we had a whole series of inadequate replacements. I would bet many among them proposed by yourself? Sometimes it is the fan who lets the player down.

          • James Wilson October 2, 2018 at 8:46 am - Reply

            Facts are indeed sacred. Start with:

            http://www.espncricinfo.com/engvaus/content/story/213484.html

            Or:
            How was it broken to you that you’d been dropped for Kevin Pietersen?
            I was out having dinner with my old mate Ray Harnelli-Khan when Grav [David Graveney, then chairman of selectors] phoned up at about 10 at night and said I hadn’t been selected for the first Test. We got into the retirement thing and it got a bit messy.
            (from http://www.espncricinfo.com/magazine/content/story/922747.html)

            And also here: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2005/oct/19/cricket.sport

            Bell in 2013 was the right choice for all the reasons Bell in 2005 was not. I am not knocking Bell, he had a good career (great would be way overdoing it, as I’m sure most here would agree), but I don’t think it took a soothsayer to know he would struggle at the age he was against Australia in 2005, and so it proved.

            • Jackie Litherland October 2, 2018 at 7:29 pm - Reply

              Thanks James for supplying evidence that I was right. The Graveney interview makes that clear.

              • James Wilson October 3, 2018 at 9:40 am

                My point was that Thorpe was available for 2005, and should have been chosen ahead of Bell. That Graveny never seemed to consider it, and just had the blinkered idea that it was between Thorpe and KP, reflects extremely poorly on Graveny as I well remember thinking at the time. From the article:

                “David Graveney, England’s chairman of selectors, admitted that the decision to include Pietersen caused much difficulty. “This has been the most difficult decision that I have been party to in my time as a selector,” said Graveney, “with both Kevin and Graham making compelling cases for selection.

                “Ultimately, we have opted for Kevin because of the form he showed against Australia in The NatWest Series and The NatWest Challenge, his excellent first-class career record and the energy and enthusiasm he brings to the England dressing room. We have no doubts that he will be able to transfer his one-day form into the Test arena and firmly believe that he has the potential to become a world class player in England’s middle order and a genuine match-winner.

                “The selectors do not view this decision as marking the end of Graham Thorpe’s international career. He has been one of our most impressive performers with the bat since he returned to Test cricket in 2003 and, subject to form and fitness, he will continue to come under consideration for the remainder of the Ashes Test series.”

                In other words they certainly considered including Thorpe. That they put so much importance on the batting order again was absurd – how on earth does the number four in the order differ from number five? Either could come in with the score on 0, 200, 400 or any other random number.

    • Marc Evans October 3, 2018 at 3:31 am - Reply

      As I understand it the prime reason for Thorpe’s rejection for that Ashes series were doubts over his fitness. Now I am a huge fan of Thorpe, whom I see as one of our best test batsman of modern times, massively underrated by the public as he was anaccumulator, not renowned for style of flare. He would certainly walk into our present team.
      If a player had to have pain killing injections to take the field would you select him now, probably not, even if it was Root. So I cannot accept ‘the selectors were so out to lunch’ Thorpe and KP were so different as batsman that it’s hard to see why it would be a straight choice between the 2. Room could easily have been found for both if Thorpe had been fit. This would have given the side a better balance. Bell was certainly a risk, but as a class act unlike any other English young batsman of the time, deserved his chance.

      • James Wilson October 3, 2018 at 9:45 am - Reply

        Bell had showed his class in 2005, but I still don’t believe it took much foresight to realise he would struggle against that Australian team, which was in a totally different league from anything he’d faced before. An old stager like Thorpe was a much safer bet and would likely have averaged more than 17. By the Oval, Bell looked lost. On the other hand, if Thorpe had averaged even 30 (never mind his career average) the series would not have been anything like as exciting, so we all owe a retrospective debt to Graveny’s myopia.

        Bell by 2013, as I said, was the right player for all the reasons he had been the wrong one in 2005. Indeed, even by the 2005/6 series he had advanced significantly and earned McGrath’s respect.

        • Marc Evans October 3, 2018 at 11:34 am - Reply

          Would he have ‘advanced significantly’ if it were not for the learning curve provided by the 2005 series? Would carrying on playing county cricket at that stage have had the same effect? I would suggest the selectors, by sticking by him, forced him to become a better player. The fact that he advanced as quickly as he did suggests the original selection was not all that ill timed. They knew they had one for the future and were prepared to take a calculated risk. He’d showed for Warwickshire what a quick learner he was, adapting to all forms of the game so quickly. If it wasn’t for the freak show provided by Warne, he would have had a better series.

          • James Wilson October 4, 2018 at 6:03 am - Reply

            With hindsight you could say Bell learned a great deal in the series and that obviously his selection didn’t cost England the series, but at the time the requirement was to pick the best team available, not to go back to England’s old habits of explaining that they were building a team to win the Ashes 8 years hence or to leave out their best player “on grounds of age” (c) Gooch and Fletcher.

            • Marc Evans October 4, 2018 at 12:02 pm - Reply

              I would have thought that one of the prime goals of a selector is to show foresight, which of course becomes hindsight in retrospect. So the choice of Bell proved to be productive in the long term. The fact that they stuck with him showed some sort of commitment to this. A risk maybe, but I fail to see the flaw in it.
              I repeat Thorpe clearly had fitness issues which played a part in Bell’s selection. Would his possible breakdown be picking the best team available?

  7. Marc Evans October 1, 2018 at 10:15 pm - Reply

    As a lifelong Warwickshire supporter I’ve seen a lot of young players come and go, none with the innate talent of Bell. Even as a teenager he had the timing and time to play as well as the temperament to stick around and accumulate. He seemed able to adapt to all forms of the game and was happy to bat anywhere in the middle order. He has certainly fulfilled his potential with Warwickshire and continues to play important innings with regularity. As a supporter it’s good to have him consistently available. 4 or 5 years ago he was probably England’s most accomplished batsman and as a result hardly appeared for his county.
    Unfortunately he came into the England side as a utility player, forcing his way in by virtue of his county form, but not given the same key responsibilities. I never felt Vaughan had much faith in him and he never played anything like in that 2005 Ashes series, always being under pressure not to get out, rather than to impose himself. With Pieterson at the other end he reigned himself in and played second fiddle. Warne always seemed to be bowling when he came in and he was clearly unsettled, like most of that side, by bowling the likes of which he had never seen before. Normally he was a confident player of spin, with good quick feet and sound technique, but Warne quickly upset this confidence and he went into his shell, not his natural environment. It took him a long time to get over it and settle back into something like real form.
    I don’t see much point of including him as a short term fix, though he is in decent form and good physical shape, unless you play him at 3, where he has plenty of experience, so giving him a definite roll to play. I think he would rise to the occasion there, particularly with the demise of Cook. I would certainly rather have him in the side than Denley.

  8. Anthony October 2, 2018 at 6:29 am - Reply

    A well-written piece and nice read but I’m afraid I’m with Jackie on this; much of the narrative seems to be bent to fit a pre-deyermined theorem rather than one based on a little more than hunch, speculation and a skew towards rewriting history.

    Bell shouldn’t be recalled, I’m in agreement at that – what’s done is done, all things must pass, and someone in the new generation is going to have to be relied upon at some point or other – but let’s not tarnish the legacy of what was still a very fine England career just for a throwaway piece on a slightly shouty cricket blog.

    • James Morgan October 2, 2018 at 8:44 am - Reply

      Hi Anthony. It’s an opinion piece. It’s supposed to be subjective. And I don’t think Geoffrey intended it to ‘tarnish Bell’s legacy’. I published this to start a debate not to assassinate one of my favourite England players.

      ‘Slightly shouty cricket blog’? HOW DARE YOU! WE NEVER SHOUT! EVER! 🙂

      • Anthony October 2, 2018 at 10:09 am - Reply

        Hi James. Well aware of what subjectivity is ta, indeed I’ve exercised the same in my response – just an opinion. I wasn’t questioning the editorial decision making but the author’s viewpoint 👍

        • James Morgan October 2, 2018 at 10:36 am - Reply

          No probs mate.

  9. Simon H October 2, 2018 at 8:41 am - Reply

    I’m mostly with Jackie on this one. A few other points I’d pick up:

    “Over the next decade, he never really found a way back to the effortless and confident batsman that scored two-hundred and ninety-seven runs in his first three tests”.

    Look at who the opposition were in those first three Tests (WI and Bangladesh, both in England). Many batsmen a) score lots of runs early on before the opposition have dissected their weaknesses and b) fill their boots against weaker teams. These are much more plausible explanations of Bell’s record than some pre-hashed agenda that there was some pure essence of Bell that was ruined by Warne (who as Jackie has shown didn’t dismiss Bell that often).

    “The sentiment most often expressed is how much we have missed Jonathan Trott…. Put bluntly, in lieu of Trott – whom we miss – any of that top seven is viable to slake our nostalgia for better days”.

    Put bluntly, Trott’s record in the second half of his England career (after the double century against Bangladesh) was nothing to write home about. The same incidentally was true of Strauss who averaged 32 in his last 33 Tests (heavily dependent on a stack of home runs against WI to boot). Yet Trott and Strauss never have their records dissected in the way Bell has – or Pietersen of course. It stinks of favouritism and agendas.

    “Bell made play that he was Paul Collingwood – borrowing his Brigadier Block routine for a tour of South Africa”.

    Jesus wept, Bell plays the finest rearguard innings by an England player this decade and it’s still somehow attributable to Collingwood? Doing it again in NZ a few years later doesn’t show anything?

    • James Morgan October 2, 2018 at 8:51 am - Reply

      Hi Simon. Have you considered that Bell and Pietersen have had their career’s dissected more than Trott and Strauss because they were more talented, and therefore expectations were higher? I get the KP agenda thing, of course, but I don’t agree re: Bell. Let’s look at Trott for example. He was sometimes vocal in the media about cliques in the England dressing room, and didn’t always toe the party line, he was also from a South African background and was friends with Pietersen – that’s hardly the ECB’s model cricketer. And yet, Trott was never the victim of so called agendas. Even when he talked about ‘bullying’ in the dressing room.

      When people watched Trott they saw a player with limitations doing his best. He rarely threw his wicket away. And he was admired for that. When people watched Bell it was like watching a Rolls Royce. He was uber-talented. Unfortunately, however, with great talent comes great expectations, and therefore more criticism when it goes wrong.

      • Marc Evans October 2, 2018 at 12:06 pm - Reply

        Was there ever an England dressing room when players didn’t form cliques and there wasn’t some allegation of at least favouritism if not bullying in later autobiographies. Think how difficult it used to be for young players to break into the team’s of the 50’s and 60’s, when seniors ruled the roost. The attitude being ‘if they’re good enough to be selected they don’t need help, we never got any’. Young players were seen as a threat to the established players livelihoods.
        You get it constantly in club cricket, so why not in county and test teams. Cricket is not primarily a team game, so is always going to be subject to a ‘whose more important to the side’ debate. Individuals have much more of a discernible impact than in other team sports.

  10. David M October 2, 2018 at 9:05 am - Reply

    There are some nice touches in this piece and I enjoyed reading it, but there are indeed some significant inaccuracies. I’ve come to think Bell might be the most missed of the fine England batsmen of that era … in particular I always thought it funny that people criticised him for scoring 100s when someone else did – it’s not single centuries that win matches very often, it’s two … Bell’s “back-up” centuries were often in winning causes, that’s the key thing.
    Anyway, I wrote about him myself a couple of months ago if anyone’s interested http://takingsporttooseriously.blogspot.com/2018/06/the-bellwether.html … feel free to pass over the slightly distracting stuff about David Gower and Ryan Giggs at the start.

  11. Mick October 2, 2018 at 10:55 am - Reply

    You can’t “forge” Test runs. As Geoff Boycott always says, it doesn’t matter how they come. If Bell was adaptable, so what?

    The idea that people should nail down a slot in a team and always bat at that position seems a bit old fashioned. We’d hardly complain if we had a number six who could drop down to two nowadays, would we?

  12. Comte October 2, 2018 at 10:57 am - Reply

    I don’t want to analyse Ian Bell’s career. I’ll just say that I rather watch him than a thousand Alastair Cooks, which is not to belittle Cook. The difference is that Bell was and is an extremely elegant player and some of his shots linger in my memory. Cook, of course, was a highly successful run machine.

  13. AndyB October 2, 2018 at 6:04 pm - Reply

    I do find the comments odd that suggest it is too late to recall Bell. I have no problem with those that suggest he should be out because others are better (although I disagree), but to suggest omission d.ue to age is silly. Bell may be the fittest player of his age in England, and certainly fitter than many in the team. More importantly, many test bats have succeeded at even older ages – Gooch, Chanderpaul, Sangakarra, and numerous players from further back.

    If the maxim that if they are good enough then they are old enough is true then so is the alternative – if they are good enough then they are young enough.

  14. Cricketcricketcricket October 2, 2018 at 8:46 pm - Reply

    Bell in his pomp was a top player. He always seemed to be mentally a bit fragile but that was when we had riches in the test team. Now, compared to all those in the current top 7 he looks stand out well ahead of them. That speaks volumes about today’s game, todays standards and today’s test batsmen., especially as people laud the current fools as ‘world class’.

    Bell was a beautiful sight when playing well. If he come back it would be short term and is t the best idea but sadly, that’s more the fault of the ECB, counties and our system than anything else.

  15. @pktroll October 6, 2018 at 8:44 am - Reply

    Would I want peak Bell back in the England side? Hell yes, along with pretty much all that top 6 from the turn of the last decade with the exception of Root for Colly much as I admired the latter. That said, the central premise of the article was that Bell was more than a little frustrating and should have got a number of centuries more than he did and had an output far closer to that of Pietersen and Cook, in terms of career average.

    Much talk of his early failure v Australia, but he was nearly as bad on his first tour of India after he had played well in Pakistan a few months before in late 2005. He would then develop a habit of often getting in and looking a million bucks and get out carelessly. Something that was all too regular occurrence until late 2009 over 5 years and 50 tests into his career. At that point he had crossed the 3 figure mark 8 times. A disappointing haul for a player of his talent. Yes he would play brilliantly for a couple of years but would then have a dreadful tour of Asia in early 2012 and fail against South Africa. That 2013 home Ashes performance was for me the best individual performance by an individual batsman for England in the last 20 years, given so many of the main batsmen, had poor series. He deserves to be remembered fondly for that alone.

    However that was pretty much the end of his good days as he failed down under, and would revert to being his frustrating earlier self before bombing in 2015. For me, he could have been left out of the 2015 UAE Pakistan tour, told to rest and find form and maybe he could have still given England some service. That didn’t happen. I would have considered him for the Sri Lanka tour now though. Although not that outstanding v spin, anywhere near his best he is comfortably above many on the test squad

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