We’ve talked at length about England’s emerging teams over the last few months. Great strides have been made under Trevor Bayliss’ delicate guidance, and several new(ish) faces are gradually starting to build themselves reputations across the world.
The absence of old pros like Stuart Broad and Kevin Pietersen from England’s World T20 squad typifies the mood in some ways. The management had another opportunity to plug a message the PR men love: ‘brave new era’, ‘positive cricket’, ‘emerging young team’ etc. It’s certainly an upbeat message that’s starting to resonate.
But we should we forget about the old guard completely? Personally I think not – particularly if the younger players who have replaced them aren’t noticeably better.
I spent yesterday drudging up some of the old arguments about Kevin Pietersen – an old face that has fallen by the wayside for various reasons. I’d like to continue a similar theme today by looking at Ian Bell’s future. If indeed he has one. Do you think that Bell, who was the last remaining batting stalwart of the fantastic 2010/11 Ashes triumph, has played his last test match?
Normally when senior players the wrong side of 30 are dropped, it’s curtains for their international career. Some energetic fresh-faced tyro usually strolls into the team, scores some runs, and said senior player becomes fossilised in the Cricinfo archives. They might play another two or three years for their county, pick up a benefit year if they’re lucky, and then call it a career. They might even get fast-tracked into the Sky or Test Match Special commentary teams.
Somehow, however, I think Ian Bell will be different. For starters his fitness is still very good and he isn’t exactly a natural with a microphone. He’s been awarded the Warwickshire captaincy for the coming season (he’s also been lined up to captain the MCC against the champions in the Emirates) which suggests he isn’t going to walk into the sunset anytime soon. I get the impression he’s highly motivated, would love to get his England place back, and could have another couple of years of international cricket left in him. The question is, do you think the selectors have moved on?
Personally I hope Bell does make a return – preferably at his favoured position of five. Why? It’s not because I don’t think he deserved to be dropped; it’s because I still believe he’s palpably better than the two players who have replaced him (Nick Compton and James Taylor). What’s more, Compton is only a few months younger than Bell. If the selectors think Compton has an international future, then why not Bell?
It wouldn’t surprise me if Bell has enjoyed his time off – we all know how tedious and exhausting the international treadmill can be – and returns energised and ready to score big runs again. Let’s not forget that he’s been touring with England full time for the best part of a decade now. Maybe the break will do wonders for him?
The other point about Bell is that his career has followed a remarkably similar pattern to Alastair Cook. Bell averages 35 and 41 against Australia and South Africa respectively, while Cook averages 39 and 35 against England’s biggest rivals. Bell averages 58 and 47 against Sri Lanka (England’s next opponents) and the West Indies, while Cook averages 51 and 57 against them. Meanwhile, if you take off Cook’s recent double hundred in the high scoring match in the UAE, they both average just over 40 against Pakistan.
Bell and Cook’s career averages of 43 versus 46 are also quite similar (Cook’s superior performances against India give him the slight edge here). My point is that England could’ve written off Cook after his long period of bad form in 2013/14. Instead they dropped him from the ODI team, he had some rest during the World Cup, and he’s come back very strongly. Perhaps we could expect Bell to do the same after a similar period away from the team?
England have showed remarkable patience with Cook in the past – and it’s a good thing they have too. His runs in the last calendar year have been extremely important. I’d like to think they hold Bell in the same regard and might extend him the same leeway (or perhaps I should say courtesy).
Andrew Strauss himself should appreciate the benefit of a good rest. It wasn’t that long ago when Strauss was left out of an England tour to work on his technique. He made a triumphant return in New Zealand and soon silenced his critics. Lord Brocket, as his teammates used to call him, knows Bell extremely well and surely realises there’s something left in the tank.
Or does he? My fear is that England might get carried away with talk of new eras and begin selecting on image rather than substance. Reverting back to Bell might seem like a retrograde step. In some ways it possibly is. However, if you’re going to write off nearly 8,000 test runs, 22 centuries, 46 fifties and 958 boundaries, you’d better make sure you’re changing things for the better.
Do England’s management really have that much faith in Nick Compton and James Taylor? Personally I doubt it.
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