Shane Warne might choke on his chips, but Ian Bell could win England the Ashes.
Aside from Jonathan Trott, England’s four established batsmen suffered depressingly dreadful summers. From the six Tests, Strauss, Cook, Pietersen and Collingwood managed only 918 runs between them at just 27.82 – with one hundred. Add to that the personal wounds both openers obtained in Australia four years ago and it puts into perspective the blip that the Aussie batsmen are currently going through.
Bell, however, suffers from neither of these scars. He may have averaged only 33.10 in the 5-0 baggygreenwash but four fifties – batting at three – hinted at a strength of character that has rarely been in evidence. Until last summer.
Since his recall for the third Ashes Test in 2009, Bell has scored 859 runs from 11 Tests with three hundreds and four fifties. His 72 at The Oval against the Australians and his 140 and 78 in South Africa were innings of a mature, confident batsman able to adapt to conditions and match situations. He had, finally, found that inner Cujo.
After such a good run of form, it initially appeared that the foot injury which forced him out of the Test squad to face Pakistan could not have come at a worse time for him. But two things happened. Firstly, no English batsman apart from Trott scored any runs. Secondly, and more remarkably, his absence highlighted something that had never been said before – that England’s batting line-up looks stronger with Bell’s name on the teamsheet.
How did this happen? He recently told TWC that “I’ve learned to trust myself”. On the surface, it’s an odd thing to say, one that doesn’t really mean anything. But, given that Bell used to suffer from a pretty distressing case of Obsessive Batting Disorder, it’s a very telling statement. He’s letting us know that he no longer worries about everything being 100% technically correct and has learned to trust his instincts. That’s good news: for a batsman as innately talented as Bell, his instincts are inevitably right.
The transformation is there for everyone to see; rarely has a player’s change in attitude and approach been so tangible. Where once he was a portrait of a classical batsman, with a paper-thin substance, he has now fully embodied the role. His match-winning hundred in the CB40 final for Warwickshire was the one chance he’d had to impress since his injury – and he did so on a big stage. This was a batsman blessed with meekness no more.
The Australians will have taken notice; they’ll be fully aware that the one weak spot in England’s 2005 Ashes-winning team could now be its strength. You never know, Warne might even be calling him the Terminator come Sydney.
Daniel Brigham is assistant editor of The Wisden Cricketer
You can follow him on Twitter: WisdenCric_Dan