Friday, 19 August 2011

Ian Bell's Unfinished Business

There have been two obvious stages to Ian Bell's international career. We had a boy who was thrown in at the deep end and floundered, and now we have the man who is taking on all comers and scoring an awful lot of runs. There is a clear and obvious line between the two phases of Ian Bell - being dropped out in the West Indies and being forced to leave the England set up, go back to county cricket, and earn his place back. Since his redemption it seems as though he's been on a mission to right all of the wrongs of his previous few years at top level cricket, and he could now quite justifiably be called the best batsman in the world.

Ian Bell always had the technique for international cricket. Those fluent cover drives that had the Oval crowd drooling today aren't a million miles away from the same fluent cover drives that had crowds drooling back when he was making his way in a Warwickshire, and later England shirt. What has changed, however, is Bell's mindset. Back in the day Bell was the perfect example of a player who had all of the shots, but lacked the mental fortitude to succeed in test cricket. A lot of pretty starts were very rarely converted, and the stat of him never being the first batsman in an innings to reach 100 proved that he only really made runs when England were well on top. Prone to crumbling under pressure, it seemed that Bell's time was up after he carried the can for the seminal 51 all out in Jamaica.

Bell left that miserable tour as a spare part - a player who couldn't quite cut it at international level despite making some decent scores (199 against South Africa the previous summer springs to mind) and it looked like his international career was over. During the time away from the England set up, Ian Bell grew up. He knew he had to toughen up, and that there were a lot of things he had to put right if he was to succeed. So he added some steel to that technique, and has slowly set right the wrongs of his early international career.

Never been the first batsman in an innings to make 100
Never made 100 against Australia
Never made 100 at number three
Never made a test 200
(not quite there but at 181 not out overnight he should get there early tomorrow)

Already with five test tons to his name this calendar year, and averaging 128 in 2011, Bell has turned himself into an absolute machine. Adding runs - consistent runs, to his superb range of shotmaking, Bell makes an incredibly strong case to be considered the world's best. That his feats have been somewhat overshadowed by the form of some of his teammates shows just how good a side England are at the moment. A team who, a couple of years ago always had talent but never consistently delivered, added some grit and determination to their obvious ability and have become the best in the world. A little bit like Ian Bell.

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