Time for Bell to Stand Up Tall

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ian-bellLast 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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  1. Ali Bourne says

    completely agree. Bell looks brilliant but i don’t think he is a number 4. We also need to split up Bopara and Bell so to me slotting colly in the middle seems like the right idea.

    Just hope the selectors do it

  2. David says

    It is true in the past that England’s selection policy was haphazard to say the least. This improved significantly when Hussain and Fletcher were at the helm.

    There are still players who have not been treated well (Shah, Key and Solanki to name three), but on the whole selection has been much more consistent and good players have been persevered with. Bell is one of these.

    Clearly, Bell has a lot of talent and on his day looks World class. Personally, I think he needs to toughen up a bit and start making a habit of getting good scores even when it isn’t his day and he is not in prime form (something Cook and Collingwood seem to be able to do).

    Also, as the only county players that are more talented than Bell are either retired from international cricket (Trescothick), or a return to the past (Ramprakash), it is right that Bell has been given another chance.

    He’ll probably go out and score a ton now…

  3. Jackie says

    One of the most intelligent pieces on Bell I’ve read for a long time. It can’t be easy to be the butt of sneers and jeers of the media. Bell has had to put up with all that. Doesn’t do much for self-belief. But he seems to have got new authority and energy after his crucial 72 at the Oval. Not a ton but as good as on a very difficult pitch, coming in under immense pressure at 12-1. He held the England innings together and top scored. When Australia collapsed next day his 72 looked even better.

    Since then he has played brilliantly for Warwickshire, great partnerships with Trott, and has scored two centuries and 93* in four innings. Always sublime to watch when on top form, he showed the TV commentators at Surrey his class and got even Bob Willis and Mark Butcher overawed by his batting. Great stuff Bell. With England’s terrible showing in the one-day games with the B team, the call is out for Bell and Trott to be selected. Too late now for the Series against Australia and the Champions Trophy (we are doomed) but not too late for South Africa.

  4. David Siddall says

    I very much echo your sentiments Jackie. The current middle order competing in the champions trophy looks threadbare. Lets hope they can pull something out of the bag and surprise us all. Fingers, toes and everything crossed.


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