Pining For Ian Bell

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Today we welcome guest contributor Charlie Walker to TFT. He opens up with a nostalgic tribute to The Duke Of Bellington. Thanks Charlie …

November 2017 was an anniversary of sorts. It marked two years since Ian Ronald Bell played his last Test match for England. Ashes defeats usually bring with them a sense of nostalgia, a yearning for players of a bygone era. But why is it that I am missing, even longing for, a player who is still only 35 years old and continuing to play first class cricket?

Perhaps it’s because no batter ever again will garner a nickname even close to the “Eternal Sledgehammer of Justice”. Or maybe it’s because Bell was a remarkable cricketer with an outstanding Test record who was capable of taking it to the Australians in their own back yard.

When looking at Bell’s statistics, his numbers stack up against the very best. He made his England debut back in 2004 against the West Indies and went on to play 118 Tests. This puts him fourth on England’s all time list behind only Anderson, Stewart and Cook. He accumulated 7727 runs at 42.69, an average surpassing England “greats” like Strauss and Vaughan, and even pipping Graham Gooch in that category.

He has been part of five Ashes series wins. That’s right, FIVE. Which puts him in the same exalted company as Bradman, Ponting, and Botham.

Easily his finest moments on the international stage came during the Ashes series of 2013. Bell was in his absolute pomp, collecting the man of the series award after averaging 62.44 against the Ozzies. He amassed 562 runs including three centuries.

It wasn’t only on home soil where he excelled when fighting for the urn. In the 2010/2011 series Down Under, Bell was once again one of England’s best players. His 329 runs (@ 65.80) go largely unnoticed only due to Alastair Cook’s unbelievable run scoring that winter. A fine personal tour was capped by a wonderful century in the final match at Sydney.

It begs the question, where is Ian Bell now? Why was he not considered to shore up England’s fragile batting at a time when few other players have as much experience of Australian conditions? Surely as one of our most prolific and longest serving batsmen, we could have used his talent and wealth of knowledge this time around?

Unfortunately, no. Whilst the selectors’ door was just willing to be banged on, Bell has failed to put his hand up and be noticed. A dismal Division One campaign with Warwickshire saw his faint hopes disappear. Bell is without a County Championship century since April 2016 and his average in the four day format of the game this season was only 25.91. This despite standing down as his county’s captain to focus on his batting.

It’s all such a shame. A few more runs might have seen him recalled to England’s Ashes ranks. And who knows what would’ve happened had he managed to rekindle some of his form of old? Bell batting well would have been so much better than James Vince.

At a time when few of England’s batters have “trademark” shots (Cook’s cut, for example, or the Keaton Jennings waft outside off stump), Ian Bell’s flowing cover drives will last long in the memory. As Australia’s fearsome pace trio decimated our inexperienced batting line-up this winter, I dreamt of the “The Shermanator” withstanding everything Australia could throw at him – including both sledges and 90mph deliveries – with flair and grace. Too often we are quick to forget those who have given us some of our greatest sporting memories and, as “The Duke of Bellington” will attest, some of our greatest sporting nicknames too.

Charlie Walker

@charliecric

15 comments

  • Interesting but I’m afraid he’s way past his glory days. With a bad couple of seasons recently can’t really see England looking at him again, particularly as, rightly or wrongly, they prefer youth now. Great player though and maybe dropped a bit early from the Test side.

  • The myth that Bell went missing when the going got tough is one that particularly boils my ****. There was this:
    http://www.espncricinfo.com/series/13436/scorecard/387572/south-africa-vs-england-3rd-test-england-tour-of-south-africa-2009-10/

    And this:
    http://www.espncricinfo.com/series/12231/scorecard/569245/new-zealand-vs-england-3rd-test-england-tour-of-new-zealand-2012-13/

    I reckon that if most England fans were aksed to name the five best England rearguard innings of the last decade, almost no-one would mention either of these.

    • His rearguard at Cape Town is certainly in my top 5. He was however more than a little mercurial and for a long time his stats were more than a little held up by runs accumulated v Bangladesh. Even at the end of his career his average drops a couple of runs and more when they are excluded.

    • I’ve not sent the article to our subscriber list (nearly 1000 people) yet. Been a bit tied up with work.

      I loved watching Bell bat. His game had no real weaknesses. He was our Mark Waugh / Damian Martyn. Perhaps he frustrated some simply because he looked so good … high expectations etc.

      • You have got it there James. It was always the high expectations because of the way he looked. I’ll never forget the first time I saw him play. Poetry in motion. I miss him.

        • The thing that sticks long in the memory is not the cover drives (wonderful as they were) but the ramp x late cut at shoulder height off the fastest bowlers, especially in his great Ashes series.

  • I miss Bell – a glorious player to watch when on song. I also miss the tension of feeling that, however well sat he appeared to be, a dismissal could be imminent. But I’d rather see him today than some of the current pretenders.

  • I remember Bell’s efforts fondly too, and getting up early to watch the last rites of England losing at Perth in 2010, just because he was not out overnight. But, please, “the Eternal Sledgehammer of Justice”? It’s “the Sledgehammer of Eternal Justice” of course!! I believe the name came from Andy Zaltzman.

  • One of the most disgracefully mistreated England players of all time. You can bet no other England bat would have been dropped to make way for…..Owais Shah! Then, of course, there was the constant messing around with his place in the order, with Bell always expected to be the fall guy to move to accommodate others in their preferred positions. And then there was his friendship with Kevin Pietersen and sharing the same agent. That made enemies of most of the establishment, led by and obvious in the articles written by Montgomery and Michael Vaughan in 2015/16. Bell suffered because he was not a posh boy and failed to tug the forelock at the right time. And, I suspect, the final nail in the coffin with the Lords Bullingdon brigade was to have a wife called Chantal. 🙂

    • She’s an extremely good looking woman too! Never thought of Bell as one for the ladies but apparently he does have his female admirers.

  • I remember when Bell first appeared as a teenager for Warwickshire feeling rather depressed, as he was such a young talent that you felt it was inevitable he would spend most of his career tied up with the England team, playing precious little cricket for his county. Always the short straw for a county’s best players. At his best he was a kind of right-handed Gower, beautiful to watch, with so much time to play, yet always vulnerable to the casual. I would be interested to know how many times he was out in the 60’s and 70’s. It seemed like an awful lot.

By Charlie Walker

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