Ian Bell is not Alastair Cook

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4 minute read

There are a lot of optimists in the world and the problem with positive people is that they assume that positivity itself is some sort of positive.

It’s all well and good swanning about thinking everything will work out, but really you’re just setting yourself up for disappointment and failure. The truth is things don’t always work out.

Positivity can be good. It can be necessary. But it can also lead you to do stupid things.

Let’s have some examples

At one extreme, imagine you’ve just bought a bag of beef-flavoured Space Raiders. It requires minimal positivity to look on the bright side and assume that the things inside the bag are baked corn snacks and therefore edible. Result. You get to eat some food.

An extreme pessimist, however, might perceive the same items as being made from some sort of radioactive compacted dust laced with strychnine. Boo. No food for you.

Now imagine you’re standing on a high bridge across a canyon. You close your eyes and consider stepping off the side. Most people would assume that they would fall to their death were they to do that. An extreme optimist might think that a giant bird would just happen to fly underneath their foot at the exact moment they stepped out and hover there, providing support. Then another bird for their next step and another and another until they reach safety.

Now these are two extremes, but positivity does slowly morph into delusion the further you move towards each end of the continuum. Somewhere between them there’s a grey area. For example, a recurring scenario in cricket is when a team has to choose between a familiar older player and a less familiar younger player.

Shades of grey

The point about shades is that you’re talking about gradation, which is why we’ve just resisted the obvious temptation to include a number with that subheading. We’ll go with ‘infinite’ if it makes you any happier.

No two cricketing selection decisions are the same, but with really close calls it always boils down to how much of an optimist you are – how you perceive the absent data. You know what’s happened, but what will happen next?

Let’s get specific. Ian Bell will open the batting for England tonight. Alex Hales will not. Is that the right decision or the wrong decision?

Cricket - Yorkshire Bank 40 - Kent Spitfires v Notts Outlaws - The Spitfire Ground, St Lawrence, Canterbury, England

Bell v Hales

Bell is familiar. Perhaps over-familiar would be a better way of putting it. For better or worse, we don’t feel like there’s anything left to learn about him.

Alex Hales is newer. He had a strong domestic season and has a really good record in Twenty20 internationals, but as a 50-over opener, he’s more of an unknown quantity.

We can compare stats and technique and approach, but a large part of the argument seems to hinge on what Hales might do. If you’re inherently positive, you’ll say Hales might win England matches with aggressive hundreds. If you’re of a more negative mindset, you’ll say he might rack up a great string of single-figure scores.

So Ian Bell is not Alastair Cook then?

Correct. Chances are, on some level you’re aware of this fact, but we thought we’d provide a reminder. People talked so much about how bad it was to have Bell and Cook in the same top three that the two batsmen have almost become interchangeable when we talk about one-day cricket.

Hales, in contrast, was fortunate enough to be kept out of the side by Cook and has therefore become symbolic of the brave new Cook-less world in which everyone hits sixes from ball one.

But Ian Bell is not Alastair Cook and Alex Hales is not the anti-Alastair Cook. (Nor is Cook the purest form of one-day failure imaginable, for that matter – but that’s something it’s not worth getting into right now.)

Ian Bell is Ian Bell

If we’re looking at their technical suitability for one-day cricket, Alastair Cook has three shots and Ian Bell has about 42.

If we’re looking at the stats, Cook clearly ground to a halt, but Bell has been surprisingly effective for a while now. In 2012 – the year that England became the top-ranked one-day international nation – he averaged 54.90 and scored at a strike-rate of 82.68. In 2013, he averaged 43.00 and scored at 76.87. In 2014, he averaged 34.21 and scored at 90.89.

You can look at those figures two ways. You can say he simply doesn’t score quickly enough for the modern day and age, or you can say that it’s unrealistic to expect everyone in your batting line-up to perform like David Warner.

Warner, for the record, averages 31.40 in one-dayers with a strike-rate of 83.50.

But Hales *might* win matches for England

It’s true. He might. It really is hard to argue against that, because it’s absolutely true. We’ve even said that Alex Hales and Moeen Ali would make a great one-day opening partnership ourself.

We’re not trying to make a case here. It’s a grey area and that’s really our point. If we have some sort of message, it’s that the ‘better the devil you know’ argument is rarely a crowd-pleaser, but that doesn’t necessarily make it wrong.


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  1. Ian Bell gets a worse rep. than he deserves for being associated with Alastair Cook. He’s incredibly frustrating in his tendency to hit a pretty twenty and get out, but he will usually at least do so at a decent strike rate, and he can accelerate if he stays in.

    I don’t know whether I’d rather see him or Hales opening the batting at the moment. Hales has failed in his first few exposures, but there’s no doubt that he’s talented. Bell has been on a downward slope: again, little doubt that he’s talented either. He’s just a bit older. Both can grind and then hit out, although if I had to trust one of them to grind for my life (the wicket is three of my major blood vessels, perhaps), I’d go for Bell.

    So basically, I have no idea which would be better. Or, even more basically, “What you said.”

  2. It does not make me at all happy to treat ‘infinite’ as though it’s a number.

    You can’t treat abstract concepts as though they’re numbers. You can’t have ennui grams per milliltre and you can’t have averaged self-actualisation miles per hour. It doesn’t work in any situation and it turns out it definitely doesn’t get you anywhere in court.

    1. Where do you stand on having a number as the answer to life, the universe and everything?

    2. If I could leap to the defence of our king here, I’m not sure what is less abstract about the concept “50” than the concept “infinity”. 50, or 49.999… as I prefer to call it, is a very difficult concept to pin down without having some objects attached to it, in which case you tend to end up describing the objects. It is very much like 7 and 153 in this regard. But anyway, perhaps this will satisfy the scholars here:

      Cantor: Aleph-1 shades of grey

      Gödel: Definitely not definitely not Aleph-1 shades of grey

      Cohen: Definitely not definitely Aleph-1 shades of grey

  3. All I have to say is if cook doesn’t resign test captaincy focus solely on his batting the media will make sure his career ends this year
    He ll forever be the guy who should have overtaken gooch and could have got close to sachin and what a shane would that be
    I hope he’s thinking

  4. Do you know the difference between an optimist and a pessimist? A pessimist says ‘Oh dear, things can’t possibly get any worse.’ And an optimist says, ‘Don’t be so sad. Things can always get worse.

    Anyway, picking Ian Bell is always the correct answer.

  5. I once saw Hales and Cook running in to take a catch, bump into each other at midwicket, and annihilate into radiation. You theory of one being not the anti-other is on very shaky grounds.

  6. I watched the warm up the plan seems to be for everyone to get 50 and then get out so not to be too tired for the next game, I can see this working

    1. 364/6.

      Against a crew of bowlers without so much as a single top-flight game in any format, but still. England scored 364 runs in 50 overs. And with their most dangerous batsman run out for 2.

      What if sacking Cook was all they needed to do? What kinds of theoretical possibilities does that open up? What if every cricket fan on Twitter really did know better than the England selectors? What kind of a world would we be living in?

    2. The worry is that according to Downton’s Law, none of these batsmen are now “due”. Therefore they will fail to score any runs for at least a year, until they have built up sufficient reserves.

    3. Eh, I’d put that match on a similar level to the one we’re talking about: a match to let the players work themselves in, not to make selection decisions from.

  7. A “purist” may well raise an eyebrow or two at all the typos “fitured” in this, otherwise excellent as per usual, little piece of writing.

    1. Actually, we think you’ll find that ‘purist’ was a spelling mistake, not a typo.

  8. I read that sub headline as “50 shades of grey” and went off to read something completely different. Soz O king

    1. I’m pretty confident that was Will Smith, cousin of Ed, and therefore qualified (Jack Charlton Rules apply) for England.

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