Tag: Ian Bell (page 2 of 4)

The barometer says England never looked like winning

Talk of an England win has been unjustifiably common during this Test. You never know what’s likely to happen in a match, but you can tailor conversation according to likelihood and at no point has an England victory seemed probable. Even talking about how they could possibly engineer a winning situation from the difficult positions they’ve found themselves in has been to remain wilfully blind to reality. A draw was appearing a fairly lofty aim from quite early on.

We’re fond of saying that averages only tell you what has already happened and that certainly applies here. Brendon McCullum only averages 30-odd with the bat, but he’s made England miserable all series without reaching three figures. Peter Fulton’s average has only reached the thirties thanks to a hundred in each innings of this match, but that kind of a contribution is a great deal more meaningful in terms of the series than what Ian Bell did against Pakistan in 2006.

We’re increasingly feeling like Ian Bell is a kind of barometer of form for England. We often talk about a team winning when one particular player performs well, but when Ian Bell plays badly, England are terrible. Or is it the other way round? It’s almost as if he responds to the pervading air of underachievement and thinks: “Right, time for eight off 89 balls.”

Bell’s still in, of course, but his obduracy seems less like resilience and more like the foreshadowing of a collapse – a contributory factor, even, if it brings unwarranted nervousness to the young batsmen who follow him.

Good luck to Bell and good luck to England, because they’ll need it. Whatever their averages, New Zealand’s bowlers have threatened England’s batsmen almost all series.


Bell and Pietersen bat for no-one

Sometimes you bat for your team-mates. Let’s imagine there’s only one threatening bowler in the opposition attack. If you can put some mileage into his legs, you make it easier for the batsmen who follow you. To some extent, it doesn’t really matter how many runs you score. You are making an investment on behalf of the team.

When Graeme Swann dismissed Yuvraj Singh in India’s first innings, he had 4-78, but he was starting to flag and he eventually finished with 5-144. The lower order had faced a different bowler.

India’s batsmen didn’t really get after Swann. Instead, they played in the knowledge that even spinners tire. Gambhir extracted 44 deliveries from the off-spinner, making just 14 runs in that time; Pujara scored 62 off 133; Kohli scored 7 off 30; and Yuvraj scored 25 off 49.

Those are dull statistics, but if you can commit the opposition’s best bowler to 51 overs of toil, you aren’t just surviving him, you are eroding him as well.

In England’s first innings, Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell made no such investment. The latter didn’t even take a sighter. The former will doubtless argue: “That’s just the way I play” and to that, we can only reply: “What, badly?”

Bowling workload doesn’t make the highlights reel, but it matters. How much was Cook and Compton’s decent second innings opening stand the result of the incremental loss of zip from India’s spinners? Ashwin and Ojha bowled 49 of the 71 overs in England’s first innings, but they could have been asked to do more work.

If those two bowlers recover their vim and venom overnight, England’s openers will try and do their job. Bell and Pietersen will benefit should they be successful. Maybe next time they could return the favour.


Ian Bell wants to play one-day cricket

ian_bell.jpg

In a parallel universe, players and fans care about one-day internationals – or, more accurately, one-day internationals are worth caring about. In this universe, we’ll have to muddle through, making the best of flukes and serendipity.

Kevin Pietersen retired from one-day internationals because on the morning of a game, he felt like most of us do when we have to go to work. Damn him if you want, but we don’t expect people to pay to watch us add conditional formatting to a spreadsheet. Cricket’s different. You want to see people who aren’t just going through the motions.

With Ashes wins and stacks of Test hundreds to his name, Ian Bell should be pretty fulfilled. He should be above one-day internationals, but he’s not. Because he’s always been crap at them, he feels rejected and undervalued, so he’s going to try and put that right. Good news for England and good news if you’re in a ground, struggling to suppress the feeling that you’re witnessing contractual obligations being fulfilled.

We’d prefer to see a Kevin Pietersen who gave a toss about one-day cricket, but there’s no such thing. As such, we’re slightly better off with an Ian Bell who’s keen to do well.

What happens when Bell’s proved his point is another matter – hopefully he’ll follow Pietersen’s lead. Maybe then the cricket world will start to comprehend that the ‘best’ players only warrant that adjective when they are fit and motivated to perform.


Ian Bell: Lord Megachief of Gold 2011

You can almost forget that his middle name is Ronald these days

That’s right – Ian Bell. Weird but true.

Dale Steyn came pretty close to becoming the second player to earn a promotion to Grand Lord Megachief of Gold, but Ian Bell’s year was just too ridiculous to overlook.

Some numbers

11 Test innings, 950 runs, five hundreds, an average of 118.75 and he scored at about four runs an over as well. That’s the kind of year that can sway even someone who once made indifference to Ian Bell an official editorial stance.

And we did need some swaying as well. We never wanted to name an English player Lord Megachief of Gold. We didn’t want such a respectable award to be sullied by allegations of bias. There shouldn’t be any danger of that, considering the above.

Some words

For his first couple of innings of 2011, it was easy to overlook Bell. He hit hundreds in both of them, but they were the usual ‘someone else got there first’ hundreds.

The first was at Sydney where England won the Ashes. The second was against Sri Lanka and that series saw some selfless batting from the man. As well as that support act hundred, there was a solo effort in the third Test and some feisty declaration batting sandwiched in between. It’s that flexibility that elevates Bell above Alastair Cook in our eyes. He is now seemingly a batsman for all situations.

Number three

Ian Bell had always bleated on about being a number three batsman to anyone within earshot while simultaneously making an extraordinarily compelling case that he was anything but that. Put him in the middle order and he scored runs quite happily, but move him to three and suddenly Tim Munton was his batting role model.

Midway through the second Test against India, he got yet another chance at three after Jonathan Trott knacked his shoulder in the field. England had conceded a first innings deficit of 67 and then lost Alastair Cook in the fourth over of their second innings. Bell hit 159 and England won by 319 runs.

Out and in like a fiddler’s elbow

Of course the dopey knobhead undermined his efforts to some degree by getting himself temporarily run-out. India’s noble decision to allow him to bat on overshadows that innings a bit, so Bell needed to do something else.

In his last Test innings of 2011, he hit 235. England won by an innings. From winning the Ashes to becoming the top-ranked Test side, Ian Bell was there throughout. He has played so well that we now actually give a toss whether he’s in the team or not. It’s a staggering transformation.

Congratulations, Ian. You are Lord Megachief of Gold 2011.


When India allowed Ian Bell to carry on batting at Trent Bridge

Ian Bell resumes batting

Cricket action stops and starts and we didn’t feel very comfortable with someone being run-out when pretty much everyone on the field had stopped playing.

We don’t care too much about the technical rights and wrongs and everyone on the field seemed to share those feelings once they’d had a look at a replay. All the same, the Indian team still deserve a huge amount of credit for having the balls to allow Bell to return to the crease. It sounds pompous to say that they transcended sport, but they did. They were pretty confident that they were right and the Laws of Cricket were wrong in this instance.

Besides, a great innings in a great Test match didn’t warrant such a crap ending – one that no-one was that overjoyed about. Praveen Kumar thew the ball in like it was one he’d just found in a hedge and Abhinav Mukund took the bails off like he was the only one still playing because all his mates were going home for their tea. Which is pretty much what was happening.

When Bell was dismissed a second time, the Indians actually looked happy. People celebrated. It seemed more fitting. It seemed like it was actually part of a Test match.


Ian Bell and middle-order batting

Couldn't be bothered finding a new picture

Batsmen always want to play at the top of the order. This might be because they realise that you get more recognition up there. Well we’d like to recognise Ian Bell’s middle-order skills.

Runs equal plaudits and while top-order batsmen face the new ball, they can also approach batting however they want.

If Alastair Cook makes a decent score, he will do so at a steady rate of three runs an over. Maybe he’ll score at 2.8 runs an over if things are tough. After he passes 150, he might open his shoulders and score at 3.2 runs an over, but probably not. He does what he does and he does it astonishingly well.

Ian Bell isn’t allowed to play like that though. Before Cook goes out to bat, Graham Gooch sidles up to him, twirls his moustache and says: “Score at exactly three runs an over, Alastair. No more. No less.”

Before Bell goes out, Gooch could say a number of things.

  • “Kick ‘em when they’re down, Ian.”
  • “Pick up the pace a bit, Ian – compensate for Alastair.”
  • “Save us, Ian. It’s all gone to shit.”
  • “Have you had a slice of my mild cheddar? The block looks slightly smaller than it did this morning.”

The remarkable thing is that Bell has been delivering all that’s been asked of him. He’s not just playing well, like Cook. He’s playing well in about a million different ways.


Ian Bell’s year – an actual opinion

Ian Bell doing the job - it's a better job than ours, to be fair

Don’t be afraid. We’re experimenting with having opinions. We meant to say it before the first Test – and maybe this isn’t the best timing when he’s on 98 not out – but we think Ian Bell will be England’s best batsmen in the next 12 months.

Ashes 2010-11

Bell’s exquisitely constructed batting was rather overshadowed by the two functional tower blocks that were the contributions of Cook and Trott, but he was batting as well as either of them, just with fewer opportunities.

He looked utterly at ease in Brisbane when England made a hash of their first innings and much the same when they were Johnsonned up the jacksie in Perth.

This summer

It was a county match that made us conclude it was to be Bell’s year though. Against Nottinghamshire, in a fairly low-scoring game, he made 139 and then 33 off 16 balls. He was captain too.

It just smacked of a man doing the job. As someone whose work nickname is ‘bare minimum’, we know how difficult that can be.


Ian Bell, James Anderson and doing a bit better when things aren’t in your favour

Ian Bell can probably get quite a lot out of the experience of buying a shed these days

It’s always tempting to judge players on their best days, but with anything long-term – a cricket career, a relationship, an overnight stint watching the Ashes on TV – a better form of evaluation is to look at what happens when things aren’t in your favour.

You learn a lot about a person when everything’s gone to shit. Score 220 not out or take 6-40 and you’ve done something that will probably win a Test match, but those days are few and far between. That’s not what life’s like.

Life’s not chocolate and rainbows. Life’s a long, hard, unremitting slog where everyone’s out to get you and nothing goes right. Life’s mostly about turning bowled for a duck into caught at slip for 62. It’s about turning 0-120 into 2-60.

Sure, making the most of the high points is part of it, but in the grand scheme of things, every moment counts. Waiting at the airport is part of the holiday. That’s your lot. Make the most of it.

Ian Bell

The hundred today isn’t the best example, because when he came out to bat, he joined a batsman who was already into treble figures, but generally, over the last year or so, Ian Bell’s improvement has been about being better on his bad days.

Last winter in South Africa, Bell started doing the job. It wasn’t beautiful shots and a flawless hundred that won people over, it was a five-hour 78 to help save a Test.

James Anderson

James Anderson’s swing bowling will still claim its fair share of headlines, but that’s not the measure of the man. The reason why he’s now one of the best bowlers in the world isn’t because of that, it’s because he’s flattened out the troughs.

Where once it was a few overs of swing and then ball retrieval from the wrong side of the ropes, now reverse swing and containment are the fallbacks.

With both these players, the focus remains the same, but the picture as a whole has changed.


We like that Ian Bell was not out

Ian Bell has battings in one match of cricketingIan Bell’s made larger steps towards forcing us into an opinion before now. Yesterday’s 84 not out against Bangladesh was more of a shuffle, but we like that he got the job done – because that is, after all, the whole point.

Number three is a funny spot in one-day cricket. Earlier this week, we wrote that it was the worst spot for Kevin Pietersen. For exactly the same reasons, it’s probably the best slot for Ian Bell. That doesn’t mean we think Ian Bell’s a better batsman, because we don’t. We just think they have different styles of play and the formulaic nature of one-day cricket means they’re suited to different parts of the innings.

We feel a bit wobbly after that outpouring of opinion. That’s enough for one year. We’re going to have to eat boiled potatoes and listen to XFM for the next few months now in a non-committal bland-land where all anyone says is ‘don’t know’ and ‘not bothered either way’.


Ian Ronald Bell is an actual hero

In the words of Alan Partridge: “Jurassic Park!”

How can we explain what has happened today? Ignore the dismissal near the end, Ian Bell did the job. This was not expected by anyone.

Imagine you’ve got a wooden spoon. This wooden spoon can somehow create dazzling pyrotechnic displays that light up the night sky. Some of your friends say: ‘Wow, that’s one hell of a wooden spoon you’ve got there.’

‘Yeah, great,’ you think (in a sarcastic tone of voice, because that’s how you think). You know the wooden spoon better than your friends. Whenever you’re trying to cook some methi gosht, the spoon does a quick burst of strobe lighting before going all bendy.

That’s no good. It may be impressive, but it’s useless as a wooden spoon and that’s what you want it for: to carry out the wooden spoon work – stirring and suchlike.

One day, you’re cooking murgh makhani and it starts to stick, but you can’t find a good spoon. In desperation, you grab the wooden spoon and jab it into the pan. To your surprise, it retains its rigidity and doesn’t set off a catherine wheel or anything like that. It just does the job for which it was intended.

When you taste the murgh makhani, it has benefited from the browning flavours bequeathed to it by the short period where it stuck to the pan and it tastes better than anything you’ve ever cooked.

You look at the wooden spoon and you apologise for all those occasions where you called it a knobhead and told it to go back to Warwickshire and stop testing everyone’s patience. For the time being, all is forgiven.


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