Monday was bittersweet for Ian Bell. Where the wretched Birmingham weather had contrived to dash any hopes he may have harboured of scoring the additional 24 runs required to ensure he became the first Warwickshire player to score a Test century at Edgbaston, the rather more soothing news that he had been restored to England’s One Day International side as an opener offered some consolation.
Many, perhaps even Bell himself, had felt that the Warwickshire batsman’s limited overs career was all but over after being dropped prior to the Pakistan ODI series at the beginning of the year, a series in which England seemed to make great strides as they cantered to a 4-0 victory.
Bell has been somewhat of an enigma in ODI cricket, yet whilst the England management’s multi-lingual talents have not been called upon they are hitherto to succeed in unravelling the mystery of how such a wonderfully gifted batsman has managed to muster such decidedly mediocre returns (how modern history might have differed had Chancellor Hitler been granted access to an Ian Bell). It will have been a source of great frustration. An average of 34.04 at a strike-rate of 73.31 in ODI’s, with one century and 19 half-centuries, does little to warm the cockles.
Perhaps such underwhelming ODI returns can be ascribed to Bell’s key scoring areas being cut off. That delicious late cut to third man, cover drives not so much dripping with class as haemorrhaging and a crisp clip through the square-leg region have brought Bell considerable success in Test cricket, yet defensive field settings oft encountered during ODI’s tend to remove those from his spectrum. For a player that attains a high percentage of his runs in boundaries it presents a sizeable problem, much as Test wicket-keeper Matt Prior has discovered in the shorter formats of the game.
As an opener, Bell’s prowess diminishes further (he has played 28 of his 108 ODI’s as an opening batsman), where his average reduces to 33 and his strike-rate to 70.69. Far from inspirational, yet if there is a place for Ian Bell in this side then it is limited to such a role. As opener, Bell has the freedom to play classically during the initial powerplay overs when the aforementioned scoring areas remain unattended, and possesses the lofted straight shots necessary to combat spinners outside of them.
The wisdom of a top three containing Alastair Cook, Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott has been questioned in some quarters, and admittedly on paper looks to present all the aggression of a tranquilised kitten, but in those three batsmen England possess a solidarity that provides the perfect foil for their stylistic preference. Where many sides look to score heavily whilst fielding restrictions are in place, England appear to have reverted to the old fashioned ethos of building steadily and keeping wickets in hand for an assault at the death. A scrupulously ungenerous bowling attack renders this a possibility. It isn’t spectacular, it isn’t exhilarating, but if performances in the UAE are anything to go by, it is effectual and more importantly suits England’s personnel.
So many doubts, yet Bell finds himself in sublime form. Averaging 111 in the recently concluded Test series against the West Indies, and with 82 runs to his name in the CB40 competition for Warwickshire just last month, confidence will be sky high. In fact, confidence will be rather fearful that a chap named Ian Bell is threatening to usurp it from its throne of haughtiness, thus ending a reign last interrupted by the mindset of Moses moments after his successful parting of the Red Sea. A new ball from either end should prove an advantage for Bell, too, where his sweet timing and placement ought to bring full value for his shots.
There will be no more chances, though, should this latest experiment fail. Bell is not merely visiting Last Chance Saloon, rather embarking upon a desperate struggle to cling on to the bar rail as an irritated doorman hauls him out after receiving his ticket, but where stepping in to the shoes of the now retired Kevin Pietersen may once have rendered the unassuming Bell a mere rabbit in the headlights, and though his current record suggests otherwise, there is an inkling he may just prove a revelation.
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