Bullish Bell starts the long walk back
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.
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?
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."