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Bullish Bell starts the long walk back

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Tom Fordyce | 11:25 UK time, Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Lord's on a bright spring afternoon. Ian Bell is batting in what could be the world's most perfect net - flawless grass surface, willing bowlers putting the ball wherever he wants, the finest willow in his hands and a backdrop of the most famous cricket ground of them all.

You'd expect him to be the happiest cricketer alive. He's not.

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Having been dropped unceremoniously from the England team, Bell is wounded. He's angry, and he is very, very determined.

"I've got to get back for the first West Indies Test here at Lord's," he says, with absolute purpose. "I've got to score so many runs that they have to pick me."

Bell, the most naturally-talented English batsman of his generation, knows he is in real danger of failing to fulfil his abundant potential.

In the Warwickshire 1st XI at the age of 17 he may have been - and captain of England under-19s, and called into the England senior squad after just 13 first-class games - but, two days before his 27th birthday, he is at Lord's to play only for the MCC.

"Every game I watched in the West Indies hurt like hell," he admits. "I was dying to get back to Warwickshire and start playing some cricket. I was desperate to be playing and not just sitting around."

Bell has a Test average of 40 - higher than Mike Atherton, Nasser Hussain and Mike Gatting. He has also scored just 109 runs in his last eight England innings.

No-one is quite sure why. This is a man who can make cricket look very easy - almost too easy. By his own admission, his party piece in practice is batting left-handed and smashing the slower bowlers to kingdom come.

Bell had a reputation as the best nets batsman in the England set-up. It's a particularly back-handed compliment, paying tribute to his stroke-playing ability while also casting aspersions on his mental strength.

Watching him at Lord's, however, you can understand its origins.

He looks in wonderful nick. The noise of the ball thunking off the middle of his bat booms around the nets. Short balls are put away on either side of the wicket. The foot movements are fast and decisive. His driving is a thing of delight. There are no obvious flaws.

"Technically it does feel simple to me," he says. "It feels natural. I don't feel as if I have any particular strengths or weaknesses in my game. I play a lot of the shots and timing the ball feels pretty natural.

"I don't think I've really been out of form for England. Speaking to Nasser Hussain and the ex-players, they all say that I've always looked good. My problem is making it look pretty good and then getting out for 30."

So what causes that? Loss of concentration? Great deliveries? The off-rumoured mental flakiness?

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Famously, all eight of Bell's Test centuries have been made in the shadow of a team-mate's ton. Not once has he been England's lone century-maker in an innings.

That, together with his boyish appearance - fresh-faced, freckly, high-pitched voice - and the infamous Shane Warne 'Sherminator' sledge, has led some to suppose that the pressures of Test match batting are sometimes too great for him.

Bell sees a more complicated picture. "Sometimes when you start feeling relaxed and comfortable at the crease is when it gets dangerous. If you're settled at 30-odd - that's when you can just slip a little and not quite be as focused.

"The mental side of the game isn't just about sledging. The best players will prepare in the nets the way they're going to play in a match. They'll walk in and try to envisage a certain situation - a particular ball they might face, or a type of bowler - they're always thinking about what they might face the next day.

"You go through a lot more emotional situations in Test cricket. You're trying to learn all the time, but doing so in big matches in front of huge crowds can be hard sometimes.

"It's little mental things like that the top players work on, so you can be that one step ahead when you get out there. Doing that every day is hard, but you have to do it."

Alongside Bell in the MCC team for this week's match against Durham is his former international team-mate and skipper Michael Vaughan.

Both men have the same target: a recall to the England team in time to take on Australia for the Ashes.

They might also be fighting for same position in the batting order. With Owais Shah unconvincing in the remainder of the West Indies series after Bell was dropped in Antigua, England still have a vacancy at number three.

Bell has averaged just 31 in his 16 matches there. He also averages just 25 against the Aussies, while Vaughan averages 40 at three and 48 in Ashes Tests.

Despite that, it's the number three slot that Bell wants. Desperately.

"I've always said I'll bat wherever the team want me to bat, but I want to look back at the end of my career and say that I was number three for England and nailed it.

"The best players in the world play there. I wouldn't like to think I could only bat successfully at five or six for England.

"I know I can average more than 40 too," he says. "Ten years ago in England, 40 might have been good enough - but it isn't now.

"The best players in the world average 50. When I get my chance back, it won't be about looking around at what's going on in England, it'll be looking at the rest of the world."

It's heartening stuff, exactly the sort of reaction Andrew Strauss and coach Andy Flower would have been hoping for.

At the same time, it's arguable that Bell should be looking closer to home. Ensconced in the England team while he looks in from the outside is Paul Collingwood, a man with far less natural ability but with exactly the same number of caps, a higher Test average and one more Test ton.

Collingwood didn't secure his place until he was 29, two years older than Bell is now. If Bell needs an example of what he could still achieve in his Test career, of what mental toughness and determination can yield, it's there in front of him.

"As a kid I really wanted to play 100 Test matches for England," Bell says, as the stray balls from the nets are gathered up by MCC groundstaff. "I'm still desperate to achieve that.

"When I get my next chance, I've got to be as strong as possible. I've got to make sure that I'm undroppable over the second part of my England career."

Comments

  • Comment number 1.


    nice words but everyone wants to see runs in all forms of the game, both domestic and international. It'd be great for the interviewer to go back and interview Bell again in, say, three months time and see if there are any differences.

  • Comment number 2.

    The most natural.... what? Surely Pietersen? I never realised he is held in such high regard in terms of his ability. Shame he never seems to deliver. How many chances do you need at the top level?

  • Comment number 3.

    Of course it does help a batsmans mindset if he feels he is supported by his teammates and the establishment. In Bells case he has spent most of his England career being shuffled up and down the order to accomodate less talented bats and his own captain, Strauss, broke the golden rule of keep things in the dressing room by slagging him off to the press. If I were Bell I would have long ago followed the Wessels and Twose route and changed nationality. Alternatively he could have moved to Middlesex and got selected regardless of ability.

  • Comment number 4.

    Ian Bell does have class, of that there is no doubt - leaving him out for a stretch should make him even more determined as he says, not just to average 40 odd, but be a real big payer for England. Ponting had a few so-so years and look what he achieved since his late 20s. I guess time will tell if Bell is to fulfill the great potential he has or if the mental demons prevent him from kicking on. He may have to wait however, as I am sure Vaughan is in the reckoning for the Ashes (possible Key as well). I really like Key in all forms of the game, Vaughan I'm afraid is yesterdays hero - just can't see him scoring the volume of runs required. Shah is still in posession, but only just - I am sure if one of the aforementioned players scores a stack of early season runs then the decision to replace him won't be difficult. All Shah can do is score heavily himself, hope to retain his place for the Lords test and then score a test hundreed.

    For the ashes, my choice for the no. 3 slot would however be Robert Key as he has the class, maturity, intelligence and bottle in my view to take on the Aussies - its that last quality that sets him aside from Ian Bell, at least for now

  • Comment number 5.

    Bell reminds me very much of Ricky Ponting.
    Plays at three, has incredible timing, watches the ball right onto the bat, while possessing all the shots just as Ponting has. Is of the same build and height as Ponting, and can arguably on his day look the most accoplished player in the world. Yet one is Australian captain, with a Test average of 56 from 131 games where as Bell dosent.
    Its a mental thing.

  • Comment number 6.

    Alb1on - curious comments those - why exactly does playing for Middlesex automatically get you selected? Other than Strauss, the only other Middlesex player in the England team is Shah who's waited rather a long time for selection and is likely to be dropped anyway come the summer. Ed Joyce and Jamie Dalrymple actually moved from Middlesex to enhance their chances of getting selected! I suspect there's some anti-London nias in your comment!
    As for Strauss commenting on Bell, fair enough - it was a hardly a slagging - it was making a point as he did with Harmison. Sometimes players need to be made aware of their responsibilities. Bell was coasting and had been for some time - I bet he was shocked by what Strauss said and is now even more determined to make him eat his words. If he does, job done.

  • Comment number 7.

    I feel Bell and Shah will fail in the ashes.

    Key or Vaughan are short term fixes but if your going to do that why not consider Tresco for No.3 he can do the opener role and also put the Aussies on the back foot.

    Or pick a wild card youngster, someone unexpected to surprise the Aussies with no fear of failure and very little to lose.

  • Comment number 8.

    With less than a month until the 1st test - Bell with have to do something very special to get his place back for the Wisden trophy.

    Realistically the no.3 slot for the Ashes is a margin call - luckily for him there are no younger candidates proving themselves to exactly be KP Mk II.

    So let battle commence: Shah, Vaughan, Key and Bell not so much the future of English cricket more a short term goal to bring the Ashes back home.

  • Comment number 9.

    Am I the only one who thinks that the amount of pressure Bell seems to be putting on himself could be the reason for his under-performance on the Test scene?

    Jeez, Ian - just get back to enjoying the game for the game.

  • Comment number 10.

    Boring. Bell needs to get a grip. He has far more Test caps than his performances deserve. What is the hype about? The majority of his Test runs have been soft ones against lesser countries - he is the new flat track bully. The old adage says that you should always do what the opposition would least like you to. So on that basis, leave Bell out for the Ashes.

  • Comment number 11.

    daveski25, Tresco has retired from International cricket so even if they do pick him he won't turn up!! I agree with you on all the comments though, Bell isn't good against the Aussies and his mental strength will leave him entirely should he be picked, Shah isn;t technically good enough and Vaughan/Key aren't exactly the future are they!? Although i feel they would provide the best chance of performing in that role should they get the nod. I'd like to see somebody Steven Davies in there at some point (would certainly keep Prior on his toes having him in the side as just a batsman also!!) but he'd need to be blooded against the likes of NZ etc first before being thrown into the Ashes.
    Oh, and theamazingmrwhite, Bell is without doubt the most naturally gifted, Pietersen couldn't be farther from it, he was originally a spin bowler who batted at 8 or 9 and would come in looking for fast runs late in the innings (like Mascherenas does in our ODI team) he became the batsman he is today purely through extremely hard work and commitment, just one more reason why we dhould respect the guy and why he never should've been forced out of the captains roll (although Strauss is also an excellent player/leader, just not as exhuberant or long term as KP could've offered)

  • Comment number 12.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 13.

    Becoming a trend really isn't it. Hick, Ramprakash, Bell...

  • Comment number 14.

    Bell is at a crossroads in his career. For me, he is in the same category as Ramprakash - a talented player who for psychological reasons fails to deliver in Tests when the pressure is on. Bell will probably return to the comfort zone of county cricket and score tons of runs, but this will not change a thing in his mind, in fact it may reinforce the bad thinking. I would not play him in the Ashes. Vaughan will bat at 3 during the Ashes, it has already been decided...

  • Comment number 15.

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  • Comment number 17.

    Bell for The Ashes ...

  • Comment number 18.

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  • Comment number 26.

    shah didn't exactly nail down the number three slot so its still up for grabs.

    bell hit the nail on the head himself, he looks good with a 30-50 and then gets himself out. looks in good nick then plays a stupid shot. if not for that he'd be the first name on the team sheet.

  • Comment number 27.

    why is such a big deal made about bell not getting hundreds unless someone else does. it should be fairly obvious that if you bat at 5/6 most of the time then your unlikely to get a 100 unless someone else is getting runs as well. playing for england over the last 5/6 years he wouldn't have had much support from the tail and therefore would only really stand a chance of getting a ton if someone higher up the order was getting runs. if a person above him in the order was getting runs then chances are they'd get their century prior to bell getting his. equally if no-one above him has got many runs then chances are bells coming in in the middle of a collapse or on a bowlers wicket and would be hard pushed to make runs himself.

    as usual with statistics (especially in a sport like cricket where you can make up so many stats) it doesn't show the whole picture. you really need to look at some other stats in conjunction with this.

    having said all that he obviously does have a degree of mental weakness (he pretty much admits as much in the interview) with regards to his concentration. he reminds me of hick in a lot of ways, a great batsman who just can't produce consistantly enough on the international stage.

  • Comment number 28.

    SomersetJord, I'd happily lay down a picnic for Trescos family behind the umpire if it got him on the pitch for England.

    There's not a lot of talent about (batting or bowling) which is why the same group of square pegs keep being mentioned and the selectors seem so conservative in bringing the same names back time after time.

    The Aussies blooded Phil Hughes in SA on the back of a hiding at home by SA. I'd like to see the selectors take a punt on someone they think can cut it even if they haven't the greatest domestic record (like they did with...Tresco!). At least it'll take the Aussies a couple of games to figure them out.

  • Comment number 29.

    RainyDayDreamAway, The point about Bell is that he doesn't perform unless England are in a good position. These questions wouldn't be asked if he was hitting not out 50/60s batting with the when England are doing poorly.

    When KP was (albeit stupidly) out at Sabina for 97 that was out of 180, he put together an innings while noone else looked like they could hit the ball.

  • Comment number 30.

    On the issue of whether it changes anything if he scores runs in county cricket, Bell had this to say:

    "Looking back to last season, it did me a world of good going back to county cricket and scoring a double ton before the South Africa series. I’m taking that on board now – you can play as well as you like in the nets, but what’s more important is scoring runs in the middle, no matter what the level."

  • Comment number 31.

    The most natural.... what? Surely Pietersen? I never realised he is held in such high regard in terms of his ability. Shame he never seems to deliver. How many chances do you need at the top level?

    TheamazingMrWhite
    _____________________________________________

    No. Pietersen is one of South Africa's most talented batsman. Because he is, despite an England shirt on his back, still a South African.

  • Comment number 32.

    First - don't compare Ian Bell to Hick or Ramps. They would have killed for his stats. (though Hick was a great success in ODI's.)
    Second - he batted at no. 3 in the last Ashes series in Australia, and everyone, including the Aussies, seemed quite impressed with him.
    So his return to the England no. 3 slot is no big ask.
    He just wants a return of form, as Strauss did last year.

  • Comment number 33.

    Bell is the one who returned from a tour of the West Indies with an average of over 300, don't forget. He is part of the Ashes winning side - don't forget that too. I think he has to play at No 3 against Australia. Otherwise, the Aussies will shake their heads and wonder just who he upset!

  • Comment number 34.

    Bell is a very talented, and still moderately successful, batsman. If he can address whatever weakness (seemingly mental) he has, the number 3 slot has to be his for years.

    Especially as he's also a very good close fielder - in fact for quite a while (after the 2005 Ashes mostly) I had him down as a good 12th man, on the grounds that he wasn't contributing much with the bat but was doing very well in the slips!

  • Comment number 35.

    Ian Bell is weak outside off stump, and loses concentration/judgement; being often caught behind off fast medium bowling.

    Bell is very good at media reassurances but what is needed are are Alan Border like crease presence, performances and centuries against the world's best bowlers. Otherwise its glass jaw spinning.

  • Comment number 36.

    Bell needs to improve on his concentration and develop new techniques. His often orthodox strokes now will be less useful against the likes of Mitchell Johnson and Brett Lee.

  • Comment number 37.

    For all my life the England selectors have picked some players for their style rather that what they deliver. The aforementioned Ramps and Hick were given more chances than most people thought they deserved and Bell seems to be threatening to join that school.

    My understanding of Tresco is that he has declined to play for England because he cannot cope with the psychological strain of being abroad but would manage to play at home. I wouldn't tolerate anyone picking and choosing when they wanted to play and for Swanning off and leaving his team mates to pick up the pieces after his wife gave birth and failing to find his best form when he honoured them with his return, Prior wouldn't get a game for me.

    However the Ashes are too important for you not to pick your best players so unless the selectors know something we don't I would pick both Vaughan and Tresco. They have proved themselves many times in the past and if they told me they were good I would believe them.

  • Comment number 38.

    Markyrobs (#6); on reflection you are right to pull me up about Middlesex. I was thinking of Ramps (over 50 tests at 27) and the awful Habib. However tha wider issue stands. Mistreat a talented player such that he does not feel he belongs and you risk affecting his performance. Noone can seriously suggest Bell has been well managed by either the England management or the dreadful captains he has had (Vaughan who made it clear that Bell would have to bat out of order, Pietersen who expects all of his players to respond to the brash approach, and Strauss - who thinks man management means trashing your teammates in public.

  • Comment number 39.

    Sorry to say but why bother ??You can only win Ashes if you play 11 Flintoff's.Strauss bell vaughan shah and even peiterson(in his current form)can work in our back yards.

  • Comment number 40.

    Bell, the most naturally-talented English batsman of his generation, knows he is in real danger of failing to fulfil his abundant potential
    ==============================

    Im not sure why so much appreciation towards Bell throughout the article,he's just ordinary.May be Tom is related to him ?

  • Comment number 41.

    I am surprised that, on this issue, only Bell himself has referred to the importance of runs in county cricket. Surely the greatest problem for this Hutton-May-Graveney-Dexter-Cowdrey-type player is the current ideology of English coaches that players should be rested from county games. I recall the substantial number of innings Hutton had before the first test in 1946-47. Also, these players were rarely rested by their employers the county clubs. Did not Jim Laker have to front up the next day for Surrey versus the Australians after his 19/90. If Bell could play enough outside tests to get into a real groove, he would be far less likely to mishit a long-hop to mid-wicket.

  • Comment number 42.

    How many times have we all heard that a certain player is the most talented soul on the planet? The problem is not enough talent coming through adding competition for places in the national set up. England in the West Indies have been painful to watch bar Strauss who has leading by all intents and purposes a rudderless ship caused by the divisions between KP and the former coach. Is the contract issue now killing the talent by keeping it out of the set up? Vaughan's contract last September should be a bitter pill to swallow. I hope Bell does find his form again and quickly because England needs all of their players to be at the top of their game come the summer... or I doubt any of the team will pick up new years honours.

  • Comment number 43.

    at the moment its bell or key for number 3.
    and i think bell is the pick. leaving him out , will hopefully curb his infuriating habit of giving his wicket away?
    vaughan, great stuff in the past. but not for now or the future.

    who is next cab off the rank?
    joe denly looks talented.

  • Comment number 44.

    I think Bell will be back and will have a successful Test career. I also think Shah is not the answer. For me, Vaughan has to play in the Ashes. He has an amazing record against them and they know what he's capable of. Belly doesn't have a century against them in probably the same amount of matches, whereas Vaughan has four big, stunning hundreds.

  • Comment number 45.

    having lots of shots as does Bell, can be a disadvantage. Geoffrey boycott has frequently commented that vaughan is often in difficulty for this very reason. a player with limited shots doesn't have so many decisions to make.
    both strauss, pieterson and collingwood play with limited shots. they only expand their range when they are well established or the situation demands it.
    Bell is not a natural number 3, his ideal position is at 5, where stoke play is often more of an attribute.

  • Comment number 46.

    Gentlemen ( and ladies )..........What is it that has made the Aussies, not just the best & most successful CRICKET team of the past 25 years. But probably the greatest allround spoting team on the planet in that time?
    I'll tell you...... Continuity, Loyalty, & fostering team spirit.
    They have never gone down English crickets road of digarding players who are quite obviously the best they have got, simply beacuse of a slight dip in form. We hound out not only our players, but captains & coaches alike, as soon as any of them show the smallest human frailties. Neither do they allow their selection prossess to be infuenced by the media or a collection of amateur selectors such as ourselves! Ian Bell is on of the three or four best batsmen available, and would never have been dropped by an Australian coach. To beat Australia, we must start thinking like them, & pick our best players. Not keep looking for better replacements that don't exist.

  • Comment number 47.

    Englandcollapsed:
    > Bell is at a crossroads in his career. For me, he is in the
    > same category as Ramprakash - a talented player who for psychological
    > reasons fails to deliver in Tests when the pressure is on
    Not meaning to pick on one person unfairly but this sort of complaint is quite common. Come on, people, don't just flail about looking for lazy comparisons:

    Avg: Mat: 52; 27.32; SR 36.18; 100s: 2; 50s: 12.
    Avg: Mat: 46; 40.59; SR 50.08; 100s: 8; 50s; 19.

    RainyDayDreamAway:
    > why is such a big deal made about bell not getting hundreds
    > unless someone else does. it should be fairly obvious that if
    > you bat at 5/6 most of the time then your unlikely to get a 100
    > unless someone else is getting runs as well.
    Precisely the point I've tried to make in the past. Stats are funny things. If you dig about you can find some anomalous stat to prove any point. Some great players have some odd quirks in their stats. That's stats for you.

    Tom:
    > Famously, all eight of Bell's Test centuries have been made in the
    > shadow of a team-mate's ton.
    He nearly scored the first century in the 2nd test in Pakistan in 2006. He steadied the innings when Strauss and Vaughan fell cheaply and Trescothick fell short of his 50. Unluckily for him, Pietersen came in shortly after and took a liking to the pitch. He overtook Bell on 69 and pipped him to the post for the century. But for Pietersen being Pietersen, this "can't score a century unless someone else" label would probably not be there. And we'd be complaining about something else Bell was doing wrong.

    People have, over the years, complained about him being unable to play spin, only being able to score against Bangladesh, not scoring centuries, not scoring quickly enough and the latest darling "not scoring a century when no-one else has scored a
    century". Pick a match or group of matches in isolation and Tendulkar can look poor.

    His form's been disappointing recently and he probably needs a break to work on some issues he has. Personally I'd agree that he's better of batting at six. He can push home an advantage and he can shore things up and marshall the tail if we're struggling. But just as an opener will have a low average on account of having to bat out an innings to register a Not Out, batting at six is going to make it harder to score lone centuries. Move him there again and the knives will still be out.

    Either way, the man seems to be a magnet for criticism and much of it is unjustified. I hope that he rediscovers his form and continues to play for England for many years but I doubt there is anything he could do which his doubters would take as proof that they were wrong.

  • Comment number 48.

    Not impressed, heard it all before. For all his 'talent', Bell is going to become the equivalent of Harmison....and Ramprakash, Hick, Dilley, Foster, Fairbrother, and all the other 'talents' that have failed to fulfill their potential for England over the years. It happens all too frequently, and yes, it's probably a mental thing. Aussies don't need 'a settled dressing room' or 'support from the management' - once in the test arena, they RISE to the occasion. They make damned sure they can handle adverse circumstances just as well as agreeable ones. I don't want to hear another interview with Mr Bell until he has proved himself.

  • Comment number 49.

    Bell doesn't need to "grind" our runs like everyone says. We've already got Collingwood for that. I want to see Bell and Pietersen play like they did in the Aussie series down under a few times. Occassionaly they could both murder Warne, Lee, Clark and Co. I like the fact that Bell scores at a nice pace, and the more experience he gets at international level the better his "mental" attitude will improve as well. Put him down on the Ashes sheet Straussy.

  • Comment number 50.

    shiverschanders:
    > For all his 'talent', Bell is going to become the equivalent of Harmison....
    Would that be the same Harmison who has a career analysis to rival Brett Lee's, but about whom no-one can recall anything beyond his recent poor (and yes, perhaps terminal) form and so is being written off unfairly as a never-was?

    Harmison's not Glenn McGrath and he had bad 2007/2008, but he has put in some blinding performances for England over the years and all we can do is talk about how he never should have been selected and call him oh-so-witty names for him like Harmlesson.

    Few players are fortunate enough to "fulfill their potential" for the entire length of their careers, and even fewer end their career with a patch that makes them look at the top of their game.

    I've even been hearing a fair bit of carping about Flintoff recently too. Is he the next never-was of English cricket? The 2005 Ashes "flattered him" and "he's never really been an allrounder" and even "he's just not that good a bowler". I'm not even going to comment on that lot.

    Hindsight's supposed to be 20/20. What's wrong with English cricket fans that make them so short-sighted?

  • Comment number 51.

    Mr Shivers-Chanders...... What would your batting line up for this summer be then??

  • Comment number 52.

    Strauss
    Vaughan
    Bell
    Pietersen
    Collingwood
    Flintoff
    Prior
    Broard
    Swann
    Harmison
    Anderson

    Hoggard

  • Comment number 53.

    Batting line up for this summer?

    Strauss
    Cook
    Bell
    Pieterson
    Collingwood
    Flintoff
    Foster

    Sorry, folks, it's the best we've got. Stop wishing on a star and back 'em!

  • Comment number 54.

    What has Prior done Wrong??

  • Comment number 55.

    Surely, Ian Bell has been dropped because of loss of form more than anything else. I don't think his technique and temperament is under the scanner. His desperation to make a comeback in the England team shows his determination, and I wish him all the best.

  • Comment number 56.

    csuwi1, I'm as desperate for Harmison to do well as you are, but if memories of good performances can win test matches, then Bob Willis would still be playing. When was the last time that Harmison went into a test match without a huge question mark against his name? All the greats have been CONSISTENT. Harmy, I'm afraid, like Dilley, has had only one consistently good year. As for Brett Lee, he can bowl fast, but what else? Harmison has the pace of Gillespie and the height, movement and bounce of Glenn McGrath; and his career statistics should be reflecting that.
    As for my batting line-up, fussystroppy, I'm a big believer in FORM rather than reputations. Let those who can force their way into the side early in the season do so - if those with the talent can do justice to it, it will be them, of course.

  • Comment number 57.

    I fell the selectors should decide on their 15 or 16 players and STICK with them. Don't chop and change after one or two matches. Give all of them a good run, even if this entails losing a series or two. This will allow the players to gain in confidence, knowing their places are secure, and they can then play their natural game. Gambhir(India), very recently mentioned how he has gained confidence, after being assured his place was guaranteed in the team. It may be a bit late for the Ashes, but for the long term, it is worth a shot. I am sure it will produce results.

  • Comment number 58.

    shiverschanders:
    > I'm as desperate for Harmison to do well as you are, but if
    > memories of good performances can win test matches, then Bob Willis
    > would still be playing.
    Well we agree on that. We should no more dwell on what a great player someone once was than we should be berating them for recent form and, indeed, stats which can be enlightening or misleading in equal measure.

    > Brett Lee, he can bowl fast, but what else?
    He's a good solid strike bowler that I've never heard anyone clamouring to have ejected from the side. That's really the point of the comparison -- we have a very funny way of treating our cricketers here. We seem to either claim that they're either the greatest in the world or they're mud, when in truth most of them are Good. Not Great, not awful. Good.

    For the record, I'm not all that big a fan of Harmison. I was more disappointed to lose Hoggard than Harmison, would prefer to see a fit Simon Jones than (for his strike rate more than his average) than a fit Harmison and would prefer to see Broad take things up that next notch than Harmison recover his edge.

    That said, I think Harmison has looked a bit better this year -- probably better than his figures suggest. He's still not good enough, but the problem we have is that as inconsistent as he has been it's not clear that we have anyone challenging him for the position of our leading shock bowler. Mahmood, Plunkett, et al have had a shot. Perhaps they'll come good but the trouble is we just don't have a ready made replacement, just more gambles.

    Perhaps I'm misinterpreting your position to make my point, in which case I apologise.

    What I'm calling for is a bit more cool-headed evaluation rather than all this "Dumbslog Millionaire", "Harmlesson" stuff, and indeed the "Key/Vaughan/Jones/Rashid The Answer To All Our Problems" stuff too.

  • Comment number 59.

    Simply staggered nobody has mentioned the words "Ravi" and "Bopara" here. The man scored a century in the Barbados Test but lost his place immediately once Flintoff returned to fitness. Well he can't be left out for ever more! And yes, he is good enough to bat at three if necessary.

  • Comment number 60.

    Agree with Oliver on Bopara. He is definitely in with a shout. If they are on form then I think any one of the five contenders - Vaughan, Bell, Bopara, Key, Shah - contenders could do a fine job. And none of them has a strong enough record recently to demand inclusion without showing form. So lets just see who makes runs.

  • Comment number 61.

    I can not believe that England are still wasting their time with Ian Bell, he is simply not consistent enough for test cricket,Shah is a terrible mess at the wicket, fidgety,suffers from cramp,and again inconsistent,Vaughan has had his day,move on, Key is without doubt the best available,he never had a fair chance before,even though he scored a double ton, he is world class at all levels and in my own opinion,the best man for the job of captaining England for the 20/20 and 50 over teams, I would also have him as Test captain because Strauss is lacking when it comes to tactics,he proved that in declaring far too late twice in the West Indies,I am sure the stuffy lot will stick with the cosy set up but it would be nice to be a bit more positive and take more risks,they may just pay off, Another gamble that England seem unable to stomach is giving the young leg spinner Rashid a game, you can not get match experiance sitting down watching..

  • Comment number 62.

    I think Cook should bat at 3, he did a good job of it in 2006 and it would solve the possible problem of having too similar an opening pair. Then add in an attacking right handed opener, such as Vaughan, who I've felt was always better as an opener anyway, and I think the batting line up has a better balance to it.

  • Comment number 63.

    We have to get Bell in the side, he is in our best 11 players, we dont want a Ramprakash or Hick scenario where we do not back quality.
    more of a concern for me is Cook whose footwork gets worse rather than better, a keeper who is no better than club cricketer with the gloves and a bowling attack the will not get 20 wickets in a test against the Aussies. Harmison must go and Rashid must get a chance.

  • Comment number 64.


    Ian Bell plays for a county club disliked by the London based national cricket media while his natural diffident personality is exploited by them to put him in the worst possible light. Worst still it now leads him open to media " mental disintegration " sledging by the media savvy ozzies who always prepare a dedicated media strategy for potential opposition players. Remember the defence of this years Ashes began the day we lost them...over two years ago !!!!

    All this is heart breaking in an Ashes year - players like Michael Vaughan and Ian Bell are cast in the media induced abyss....because in truth nobody in official authority considers selection without checking what the national cricket writers think....one week to the next.

    Who picks the England side when no coach or individual selector will accept responsibility? Who is accountable for selection ? Who dictates tactics ?

    In three months time the Ashes begin - I like many others have wasted hundreds of pounds in difficult economic times to see Ponting humiliate England this Summer.

    Do the ECB really care at all about English cricket or any of the County chairmen who sign potential members of the Ozzies squad ?

    No leadership, no direction, no hope....that’s the real tragedy that results in Ian Bell and Michael Vaughan being on the sidelines this year while the fact no proven international Cricket coach would touch the England job shows what the real problem is.

  • Comment number 65.

    rob1969in (#61). How can you consider Key as captain when Patel has just been disciplined for lack of fitness. And don't tell me Key is now fit - hes just less unfit than a few years ago. Ignoring the fact that he is not a good choice as either bat or captain selecting Key would send the message "one rule for some, another rule for others".

  • Comment number 66.

    Don't care how good he is in the nets. He's not test standard. He doesn't make runs when England really need them. Like most County players, he is only good enough for County level cricket which is one level below Australian State cricket which is another level below test cricket. There's only a handfull of English cricketers good enough for test cricket - Bell isn't one of them. Making runs in County cricket means nothing ... Langer made loads of runs for Somerset last season but he isn't good enough to play for Australia anymore .. or Western Australia for that matter. Get the point chaps. Bell isn't good enough. He's just another one that says all the right things but doesn't perform. We are all a little tired of guys with his mentality.

  • Comment number 67.

    Whilst no one would want to select out of form players, even if they possessed undoubted talent, scoring heavily early season in the parks or at Fenners against club cricketers, is in no way an indicator that a batsman is ready to take on the Ausralian attack. Look....... Everyone who knows anything about cricket knows who the best players are. batting wise, we've got Strauss, vaughan, Cook, Bell, Pieterson, Collingwood, & yes, Bopara! Barring injuries, they need to be regarded as a batting squad. And given the confidence to go out, bat positively & encouraged to look to score at 4 plus an over.
    Shah & Key are not in the same league, their good, but not quite good enough. Not yet in Shah's case anyway. And lets not forget how the aussies treated Key some years ago? When he walked to the wicket, one of them said to him "what the hell are YOU doing here??" Probably the most devestating sledge of all time! And i agree with Alb1on, his fittness must be an issue.
    Bowling wise it's not quite so obvious, unfortunatly, since the ECB let Troy Cooley walk away instead of paying him what he was worth, Englands bowling attack has lost the penetration, pace, & variation of his time as specialist coach. However, an attack built around Anderson, Broard, Swann, & a fully fit Flintoff, looks the best route. Unfortunatly Monty just dosn't seem to possess the variation to take enough wickets to warrent inclusion in such an important summer.
    I also agree with boffinkid that the ECB & the counties could do a lot more to make the players jobs easier. County chairmen especialy are responseble for cheap short termisim. in employing expensive overseas stars, and cheap colpac players at the expence of home grown talent. I see most of the Aussie bowling attack will be here playing for counties this month, getting used to English conditions & getting a look at your batsmen.
    Whilst i recognise they are running bussiness, & success brings financial rewards, & asking them to bring about radical change like moving to a reigonal based championship is like asking turkeys to vote for christmas, we can't go on with the present system, it's just no longer sustainable in the 21st century. And it certainly does not aid the production of top class England players. The success of which pays everone in English crickets wages at the end of the day!
    Boffinkid is also correct about what he says about the selectors relationship with the media. they realy do like to check with each other to ensure they are all " on message !" For example, most of the sky & BBC radio teams spent the Windies series suggesting that Andy Flower wouldn't get the coaches job. Then suddenly, After they all no doubt got the nod that in fact he WAS going to be offered it, they all started championing him so as not to look daft when it was anounced...!!! Come on boys!!!! get off the fence!!!!
    I personaly would give the job to Alec Stewart. He'd have the respect of players, media, fans, & the Aussies.!! Remember..... Do what you opponent would least want you to do.!!!! And that means not selecting Key .....!!

  • Comment number 68.

    the ECB are a load of rubbish. under the chairmanship of mr clark they seem only interested in money. I get the idea that a bank full of cash is far more important than an successful English team.
    Geoff boycott is right, get rid of central contracts and ensure the players spend more time with their conties.
    lets have a stong England coach with power and a captain who does not think a draw is an achievment. Strauss is not the man for the job, his defensive tactics after England scored over 600 was gutless.

  • Comment number 69.

    Hi csuwi1, was travelling yesterday, so didn't get chance to reply.

    I was not having a 'hot-headed' dig at Bell, Harmy et al; I just feel they're guilty of squandering their talent - to coin a phrase, they talk the talk...but I want to see them walk the walk. This doesn't mean, incidentally, that I don't respect the slightly lesser players like Collingwood, who do make the most of every inch of their ability. The fact is, though, Harmison, like those others I mentioned, DOES have a massive amount of talent, but doesn't seem to have the steel to go with it - admitting that the team had 'the jitters' on that infamous opening morning of the last Ashes series says a lot about their mindset compared to that of the Aussies, who seem to be much more practical... they were beaten at home a few months ago, remember, but have ALREADY re-grouped and turned their situation around - thanks partly to new players who have come in and immediately looked at home playing test cricket.
    It's becoming a cliche I know, but Bell DOES give his wicket away easily far too often - as talented as the Aussies, but once they are in, it takes Semtex to get them out, THEIR shot-selection doesn't suddenly fail them, and that's what makes people like Bell so annoying.
    Incidentally, regarding Brett Lee, he's settled down pretty well at test level, and I'm not knocking him for that; but when he's been through some bad form, he's had two things in his favour: 1) McGrath and Warne in the side to keep the pressure on the opposition; and a dynamic batting line-up always able to give him plenty of runs to bowl against. It's easier to stay in the side when it's a winning one.
    My main point is that England have got to learn fast and become as practical and as ruthless as the Aussies, otherwise all we're going to have at the end of the season is yet another cupboard full of 'positives'...whatever they are.

  • Comment number 70.

    if england go 3-0 down with 2 to play in the ashes give the spot to Joe Denly. He is a fantastic batsmen who deserves a chance. He would also keep the number three spot for years and years and years and years. You get the picture hes young

  • Comment number 71.

    - Oliver Brett - BBC Sport - wrote:

    Ravi Bopara... one century on a flat track....

    Bridgetown test

    RS Bopara c Taylor b Edwards 104 233 143 9 1 72.72 His century came on a pitch which had seen Strauss make 142, Cook 94, Collingwood 96 and Ambrose end his innings unbeaten on 76.

    For the Windies innings Sarwan hit 291 and Ramdin 166. Match Drawn.

    Ramdin and Bopara Both are near identical in age. Sadly Bopara doesn't have a comparable test record as he is constantly overlooked. He is a better player according to stats in the One day arena but Personally he looks as though he never settles at the crease. Which makes me wonder Mr Brett why - if with all the abundant talent he's supposedly got - hasn't he pushed on into the starting line up on a full time basis? Could it be that the selectors view him more as an impact one day player. It could also rest in the fact that the selectors think he's not ready for the test arena. He got to his century faster than Ramdin in the Bridgstown test but Ramdin stuck around at the crease for a lot longer and scored more helping the West Indies gain a draw. Ramdin is the wicket keeper at one day level and test so works that much harder during the game and therefore requires higher concentration levels.

    A poster on here said Australia let their players get on with it. I wish the same could be said of England. For me it comes down to the adage of if your good enough then you should play.

    yes give him a go - but Im more of the opinion (not that it holds any credence) that he'll flatter to deceive in the test arena due to the same problem that blights Bell in temperament.

    Also on Ramdin - He really isn't great with the bat but the West Indies have STUCK by him. How many keeps have we gone through... That is for another feature though ain't it.

    Thoughts?

  • Comment number 72.

    As Bell rightly points out, no.3 is where all the best batsmen in the world bat. So it struck me. Why is it that for the England side it's the number 3 slot that is up for grabs. This seems a little strange that for such a key position, we have so many people contesting. People are arguing over Shah, Bell, Vaughan (and Bopara) for number 3. I say its time for KP to stand up and be counted. He averages 50, he is our best player, he should be our number 3.

  • Comment number 73.

    Forget Bell, here is my Ashes team

    J Gallian
    U Afzaal
    G Hick (c)
    A Habib
    Ramps
    G Jones (wk)
    G Hamilton
    G Batty
    C Lewis
    Pattinson
    A Mullally

  • Comment number 74.

    England selection policies are yet again strange to say the least. Bell gets dumped unceremoniously and now has little time with his county to show his treatment was wrong.
    Strauss gets the same treatment for the India tour and without doing anything is brought back and is now captain. Strauss is the guy who dumps Bell.
    It's always nice to have consistency at the top - BAH!

    Come on Belly, prove them wrong and force your way back into the England team.

  • Comment number 75.

    bnickson.......... You made an exellent point about the best player batting at number 3. Then spoilt it with your team seleclion.! When were you appointed to the ECB selection committee??

  • Comment number 76.

    Ian Bell has always been ridiculously over-hyped. His ability is and has always been good enough for batting at number 6; he is not good enough to bat for England at number 3.

    The problem for Bell is that England have two all-rounders who can bat at number 6 (Flintoff and Prior). At this position in the order, most teams will play an all-rounder if they can because it adds depth to either the batting, bowling or both. For this reason, Bell cant bat at number 6 currently because of the presence of Flintoff (no explanation needed) and wicket-keeper Prior averages over 40.

    Bell could bat at number 5, but Collingwood has reconsolidated his place at this position after his slump in form and now averages higher than Bell in Test cricket. Furthermore Collingwood is a better fielder than Bell and is also a reasonable occasional medium paced bowler.

    Coming back to the number 3 position - what England need is another opener and a forward looking choice would be Joe Denly who is the best County opener available. The forthcoming 2 tests series against the West Indies is ideal for his debut. I read one person on 606 suggesting Mark Ramprakash to bat at no. 3, oh dear is all I can say...

  • Comment number 77.

    Ian makes an interesting point about him playing left-handed in the nets. As his weakness is to a good length ball on or just outside off stump, why, when the ball is swinging, does he not nominate to bat left-handed and then when the conditions have changed and the ball isn't moving as much, nominate to go back to right-handed play, or is that being a bit simplistic? Would the rules allow him to do this?

  • Comment number 78.

    Nice to see Ian Bell sounding so driven and committed to the England cause.

    If only he'd played that way when it mattered eh?

  • Comment number 79.

    if Bell is only good enough to bat at 6 bat him at 6 !
    there is a clamour for Vaughan and i believe, it is to sort the dressing room out. there is no bigger fan of our best ever captain but i feel his eyes have gone.
    if the dressing room is the problem lets ditch the ego Petterson for the Windies series to see if he can become part of a team.
    Hoggard has been discarded for too quickly, we need to find test quality bowlers before we discard top quality test bowlers.
    give Foster the gloves if he averages 30 it is better than than Prior averaging 45 but not being able to stop a pig in a passage !

  • Comment number 80.

    bring back vaughany!!!

  • Comment number 81.

    Im not a huge fan of Ian Bell and would much rather see Vaughany in at number 3 come the Ashes, but I admire the determination of Bell and hope he gets another chance someday. However, for the Aussies, Vaughan has to be the man.

  • Comment number 82.

    Tom,

    As ever a very informative blog and good to see some mixed opinions. Personally, as much as I feel Bell has the potential to be a good England middle order batsman I don't feel that his form, in what is probably the last year or maybe two is enough to justify keeping his place at the moment. I am a great believer that the international players should be able to give as much time to their counties as possible and I think the right thing for Bell now is to go back to Warwickshire and get some runs, proving to us what most believe.

    I agree with a number of earlier comments that state that although the central contract system has worked in many regards it has created a problem with regard to regular cricket for the international stars and also makes it very difficult to perform a comparison between those who are playing international cricket currently and those who may challenge for a spot. Therefore how can we know if a youngster is up to the task or is playing as well as Pietersen et al. as we can't see them playing at the same level without taking a risk on an international fixture which mentally could be the breaking of a player especially with the over zealous press we have in this country.

    As for the England number 3 spot, despite what could be considered a backward step at this stage, I don't think we can look past Vaughan or Key. Vaughan is trying to regain the form he had prior to and during the 2005 ashes and although admittedly he is maybe not there yet his calming presence would help a pressured dressing room. Key I feel has been one of England's most underrated batsmen for many a year. He has consistently performed well on the county circuit and, although some statistician will probably prove this wrong, I've never really seen him do to much wrong when he has played for England.

    Some have mentioned Tres and although I would love to see him back in an England shirt and he could almost certainly do more than a job for us, reading his current autobiography and his recent comments he obviously believes that he has made the right decision in retiring from international cricket and I wish him all the best.

  • Comment number 83.

    Regardless of who we think is the best no3 bat for England will the supporters of Key please answer the simple question - what do the selectors say to Patel who was dropped for being much fitter than Key? No Key supporter can have credibility unless they include an answer to this simple question. Incidentally, I have no problem in picking the unfit if they are good enough, but policy must be clear.

  • Comment number 84.

    Alb1on:

    I agree that it could be seen as a bit of a conundrum, however I remember seeing an article not too long ago that went into detail about Key and his fitness and I remember it stating that despite his outward appearance Key was considered relatively fit in cricketing terms. I apologise if this has since changed or if my memory is playing tricks on me. That aside I do agree that it would certainly be hypocritical of the selectors to pick an "unfit" player after their decision with regard to Patel. But obviously only they can decided the level of fitness required for specific roles. It may be that Key is fitter than Patel, in which case the discussion is defunct, however if the alternative is the case then the selectors would have to consider their decision very carefully and the consequences of their previous actions.

  • Comment number 85.


    Unfortuantely he will always have on his CV "A pair in a vital Ashes decider"

  • Comment number 86.

    Most astute comment came from csuwi1 who said that Bell was a magnet for criticism. Even his 172 at Taunton did not satisfy Vic Marks of the Guardian. Apparently Bell should have made many many more runs. If Vaughan, Key, or Shah, or Bopara had started off the season like that imagine the plaudits!
    As for Oliver Brett calling for Bopara for No 3, after putting all his faith in Shah in the same position before the Windies Series, can I remind him that Bopara has played 4 Tests with a total of 146 runs and an average of 24. On what basis is he claiming he can succeed at 3? If it is his century at Barbados, then forget it. He was dropped on 4 and made heavy weather against Edwards on a pitch that was the flattest that could be devised. Anyone with a bat in their hand could have got runs. Shah's nerves were so bad that he failed but he was the exception.

 

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