The Andrew Flintoff express continues along its route to its final destination at the end of the line, The Oval, but the stop at Edgbaston has provided debate, intrigue and even derision at the recall of Ian Bell to England’s middle order.
The withdrawal of Pietersen further intensifies the spotlight and attention on Flintoff, his inclusion in the third Test team as much a boost in terms of personnel and cricketing talent, as it is an infusion of confidence, an injection of morale, following the emphatic victory at Lord’s. Whilst the Austrialians view Flintoff, fit or otherwise with considerable trepidation, Pietersen’s replacement is a man they neither fear or hold in particularly high regard.
Ian Bell is a precocious talent at times displaying classical elegance and composure, noted by his three centuries against Pakistan in 2006, ands his career best against the South Africans in 2008. So why is Ian Bell not a staple inclusion into the batting line up?
• Ian Bell has previously failed to intimidate the opposition- his stature admittedly is ideal for batting but is far from menacing, an advantageous asset to possess against the quality, ‘hard’ opposition the Australians pose.
Shane Warne has alluded to the fact that Ian Bell was a target for the Australians, comparisons with the geek, ‘the Shermanator’ from American Pie providing unflattering barbs and plentiful sledging material. Bell’s meagre average of 25.10 would suggest an inadequacy against the world’s best. Yet this Australian team is different, the bowling attack radically so, with the hole left by Warne and McGrath glaringly exposed in the Second Test. Bell has responded to being dropped, by hoarding runs in county cricket, forcing selectors to remain
attentive since his last innings in England’s fateful 51 all-out in the West Indies.
• Bell’s best knocks have not been influential- often his best scores have been accompanied by batting success by those above him in the order. Bell’s highest score off 199 was scored during the drawn 1st Test against South Africa, noted for centuries, among Bell’s, by Pietersen, Ashwell Prince, Graeme Smith, Neil McKenzie and Hashim Amla.
Ian Bell’s best performances have often been overshadowed by the performances of others, whilst his notable failures have come during at the very worst times, the embarrassing dismissal in Kingston moments before the lunch break and lack of runs in the 2005 Ashes series. In direct contrast, Andrew Flintoff pivotal feats have comes when all eyes are on him, the 2005 series, forming a pedestal for his efforts.
• Bell has failed to hold onto a fixed position with the England batting order-he has batted at number 3, 4 and 6 in the line-up.
Bell’s versatility has hindered the opportunity to nail down a batting slot, as Vaughn, Pietersen, Collingwood, Flintoff and Jones/Prior contested middle order places.
Ian Bell has always shown incredible talent and promise, as he captained England U19s, became Warwickshire’s youngest capped player and youngest centurion. Bell has taken time out, taken stock, refuelled and re-remerged, appearing stronger and tougher. This is Ian Bell’s opportunity to both display his evident capability and prove his progress and development. Filling Kevin Pietersen’s shoes sets up an opportunity to rise again and resurrect his Test career, as Flintoff’s winds down, albeit in the inevitable final burst.
Again the cricketing world steps aboard the Flintoff express, will Ian Bell stay on track, or is this his last stop at the highest level? At his home ground, Bell is presented with the perfect platform.
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