17 June 2012

Can Ian Bell Finally Bring His Test Form to the One-Day Arena?

The first time Ian Bell was put under the microscope was back in the 2005 Ashes series when he looked like a rabbit caught in the headlights. Aussie greats Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne made a mockery of Dayle Hadlee's comment that Bell was the best 16-year-old he had ever seen. That series he scored just 171 runs in five matches at an average of just 17.1. 

However Bell was still seen to be one of England's brightest prospects and started to improve on the international arena. He scored three centuries in a Test Series against Pakistan batting at number six a year later and continued his progress with an improved performance against Australia, albeit in a 5-0 defeat. Despite this he took a long time to get his One Day International career off and running as he struggled to distinguish quick-scoring stroke-play from rash shots. One of the reasons he found one-day cricket hard was that his position in the batting order always fluctuated and with it so did his role in the side.

In August 2007 Bell finally scored his first ODI century against India; in his 46th innings. Many thought that this would be the turning point to allow him to kick-on and become a one-day regular for England. These hopes failed to materialise as his form in all types of the game began to suffer and he lost his Test place with his average around the 40 mark and question marks over his ability to score runs in a crisis. But he won his place back towards the end of the 2009 Ashes series and proved his worth with a battling fifty on his return. 

His career really took a turn for the better during the Test series in South Africa in 2009/10. He scored a match-winning unbeaten 140 in the second Test and a crucial series-saving 78 in the final match as England held on for a dramatic 1-1 draw. His magnificent form continued into 2011, although he continued to struggle to seal a place in the one-day side after a disappointing 2011 World Cup. Nevertheless his form in the longer format of the game was only getting better and he finished the 2011 season with 950 runs at an average of 118.75, including a career-best 235 against India in his final innings of the summer. 

Surprisingly though, that one-day spot continued to elude him as he could not find a big innings. His strike-rate was not high either; at just 74 runs per 100 balls faced. As a result he was left out of England's one-day squad that played on the sub-continent in 2011/12 and did not look like winning that place back. However Kevin Pietersen's shock retirement from ODI's and T20i's gave Bell another shot at securing a place in England's top order. 

That shot came today and he took his chance in commanding style, scoring only his second hundred in 105 innings. He scored at over a run a ball and was the lynch-pin in England's excellent total of 288-6, the base for a 112 run win over the West Indies.
Bell feels as though he has improved as a player since he last featured in England's one-day top order: 
"I'm a better player now than last time I was at the top of the order. Hopefully I can take my Test match form into one-day cricket now."

Captain Alastair Cook thinks Bell is 'what England need at the top of the order' and "that's why [England] pick people with good technique to try to get through the new ball and play an innings like Bell did. I think he has improved as a player - he has worked his socks off and is getting the rewards."

England are desperate to become more of a force in ODI cricket and Bell's fluent stroke-play at the start of the innings could be just what they have been missing. After the tougher test of Australia later this summer we might know then if the Warwickshire batsman has finally put his one-day demons to bed. 

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