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.