If he can be persuaded to bat at No. 3 so much the better, writes Ted Corbett
Ian “Infuriating” Bell makes cool men foam at the mouth. Too often, he comes in, plays half a dozen classical shots, looks a million dollars and then gets out for less than 20 in a way that puts him to shame. Yet there is no doubt about his class.
Now England depends on him more than ever. Against those tough guys from Sri Lanka in both the short-run matches and the Tests; because they are among the best in the world but are rarely given credit for their aggressive batting and their containing bowlers; and particularly against India which is the best in the world if only it would believe it.
Australia may have shot back to the top of the table after its annihilation of England and its tough-it-out success in South Africa; but India has the high standards in batting and bowling and leadership that make you wonder how far it can go.
Bell began his cricketing life because the late Bob Woolmer promised us that he was a special player even when he was still in his teens.
We had dinner with Bob not all that long before he died — in the West Indies in circumstances too difficult to understand — and he was still talking about Bell. “You can laugh, you can give me all the stats that show he is not a success yet, but I know he will be a star in that England team before his cricket days are done,” he said. “I have known him since he was a young lad and he has a lot to give.”
Bell has declared his intention to be a solid England middle order man this summer, fill the space left by Kevin Pietersen, to be the base for England scores that top 500 as they have all too rarely in recent years. (Oh, how I wish KP was still in the side.)
He followed up that declaration with fifty off Scotland in a warm-up match in Aberdeen and 98 against Yorkshire’s strong bowling.
“It does not matter who is the coach,” he said. “It is up to some of us to ensure victories for England.”
Of course, although as a dutiful England player Bell did not see fit to mention this subject, the whole of the coming summer depends how the new coach Peter Moores fits in with England players whether they performed under his guidance five years ago or not.
Bell’s words — but more so his scores — will be a special message to some of the younger ones. They will think “he has known a few coaches, he has had success and failure, and he must know what he is talking about.”
It is a pity that Alastair Cook did not speak so boldly. Part of the misery in Australia was due to lack of leadership from within. Look anywhere — at Liverpool’s failure to win the Premier League, at the form of the England soccer men about to take part in the World Cup — and it is clear that however good the coaches and managers, the need for every team is a man with personality on the field.
A Mahendra Singh Dhoni, for instance.
That is why it is good to hear Bell — with a Test average of 45, a score of Test centuries and his 100th Test just around the corner — trying to lead the way. If he can be persuaded to bat at No. 3, where an empty space is waiting, so much the better, so much nearer to England’s revival.