Last week, I wrote a defence of Kevin Pietersen agreeing with Ed Smith’s verdict that he is a genius of self-belief. One thing that Ian Bell is not is a genius of self-belief. I agree with much of what Massie writes here. If I was a selector I’d have found it very hard to pick between Bell and Key but would probably have plumped for Bell for three reasons a) Warwickshire is his home ground b) despite his trouble in his last county match, he is in superb nick c) the treatment of batsmen like Bell is often appalling and dropping him after having him in the squad for the last two games would have probably been a psychological defeat too far.
Bell, arguably, is the most gifted batsmen playing the game in England today. Now Vaughan has retired I can’t think of any other batsmen, bar possibly the divine Ramprakash, who makes the game look so easy. Bell has just every about every shot going. When he plays fluently, he is beautiful to watch. He is fluid and fluent and can cream fours to all corners of the ground. He doesn’t bash and bludgeon like a Napier or Trego, he makes it look like he is caressing the ball and looks as if he has all the time in the world. This gargantuan ability perversely brings about a very British response to real class and real talent.
Across our sporting life, whenever we see someone who makes the game look easy we immediately become suspicious. Bell, Ramprakash, Vaughan or Gower at cricket, Hodgson at rugby or Le Tissier or Joe Cole in football. When these players do badly our media jump on their backs for concentrating on style over substance. When these players do well our media jump on their backs saying things like ”Why don’t they do that all the time? He can do it but doesn’t do it often enough”.
In this country there is a sneering suspicion of anyone with talent (largely and often people with none) so we end up preferring Stuart Pearce, Mike Tindall and Paul Collingwood over Le Tissier, Hodgson and Bell. This extends throughout society – only in Britain would we ever hear the words ‘he is too clever for his own good’. Would we hear that in France or Spain? No, the public would demand that the team was built around the genius rather than the yeoman.
As Alex points out, in 31 innings at 3 he averages just 31. At 5 or 6, in 33 innings, he averages 51. It seems a no-brainer to put him in at five and if that means moving Collingwood to four so be it.
Now, Bell is very close to being a walking wicket for the Australians. He averages just 25.10 against them in 20 innings with a top score of 87 and 6 half-centuries. The one thing he needs is to toughen up mentally. He has the talent, he has the shots, he has the ability. Now all he needs to do is ram a 100 down Ponting’s throat to shut up the wannabe Warne and McGraths who were, after all, his chief tormentors.
If you read Waugh’s autobiography, his response to someone getting a bad score or three is to take them out, tell them in no uncertain terms they are a decent player and proceed to get them leathered. In England, we treat our young stars by sending them to sports psychologists, going along the Ramprakash cycle of ‘pick, drop, pick, drop, pick, drop’ until the poor sod doesn’t know if he is in the team.
The Australian approach works whereas the English countryside is littered with the battered minds and largely untested bodies of cricketers who were tormented by the English predilection for tinkering endlessly. One tunes in to watch a County game on the TV and sees a name that once wore the England shirt and you see them knock a dreamy 50 and you think ”well, wouldn’t you just know it”..
Lathwell, Key, Ramprakash, Hick, Gallian, A. Holloake, Ian Ward, Ed Smith, Shah all spring to mind as cricketers who haven’t been treated particularly brilliantly by England and one wonders if Bopara and Bell will soon join them as wonderfully gifted players on the county scene who were mentally broken by the mandarins of the ECB.
I suppose at least these players have been picked. There are quite a few who are in that eternal purgatory of nearly being picked by England but not quite… Joyce, Solanki et al.
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