Ringing loud and clear

I’ve been trying to tap into Andy Flower’s knowledge since he joined our coaching staff. There were few better manipulators of the ball in mid-innings than Andy and I’m sure there is a lot I can learn from him — IAN BELL-AP

The 118-ball 126 at the Rose Bowl confirmed Ian Bell’s arrival and re-affirmed the emerging importance of youth in the England team, writes Nandita Sridhar.

How the century eventually charters the course of his one-day career is anybody’s guess, but something in Bell opened up during the course of that hundred.

By his own admission, he played that match with an overriding fear of losing his place in the batting line-up. For someone who felt he wasn’t ready when he was first picked for the England squad, Bell chose to affirm his faith in his ability when his place was on the line.

“I thought it was touch and go whether I would bat at No. 3, but Peter Moores told me he backed me and wanted me to play my natural game. I realised it was crunch time. I had played 40-odd one-day games and had 12 months at No. 3 or opening. It was time to repay the faith shown in me. I believed I was good enough to score hundreds and had given a lot of thought about what I could do to improve,” he said.

The 118-ball 126 that included a six off Piyush Chawla confirmed Bell’s arrival and re-affirmed the emerging importance of youth in the England team. Along with Alastair Cook, Bell could play a crucial role in guiding the fortunes of England’s one-day team.

Ever the spokesperson for the virtues of orthodox batting, Bell tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to execute two reverse-sweeps at the Rose Bowl that showed signs of his willingness to accelerate.

Bell, 25, had an unfulfilling one-day career till the World Cup; one that has seen every knock — usually examples of class with a safety blanket on — lose its value against the heftiness of Kevin Pietersen’s or Andrew Flintoff’s hitting. Bell was effective, good to watch, but never intimidating. The Aussies, always on the lookout for the slightest sign of self-doubt in their opponents, indulged in relentlessly sledging him.

The confidence that the youth once had seemed to have deserted him, but the responsibility of batting at No. 3 is slowly growing on him. Without reading too much into his maiden hundred, one can safely say that the foundations of his batting remain, but efforts are on at improving his scoring rate, especially in the middle overs.

Bell and Cook present a steady top-order for England. Their age enables quick running between the wickets, and their steadiness provides a perfect platform for England’s middle-order to explode.

Ian Bell with Alastair Cook. The two could play a crucial role in guiding the fortunes of England’s one-day team.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

Cook’s appeal is more cerebral than visceral. The left-hander is blessed with an abundance of patience and is exceptionally good playing off his pads. At 22, Cook can be moulded into a reliable one-day opener.

The real challenge for Bell and Cook in the one-day game will begin now. Too many instances of unfulfilled promise have plagued England teams in the past. Bell has moved on from being just a player of promise, but what he does now will be crucial. The middle overs, as he himself admitted, and the number of dot balls are areas he needs to work on. Having broken the shackles at the Rose Bowl, Bell needs some sound advice in this crucial phase of his career.

“I’ve been trying to tap into Andy Flower’s knowledge since he joined our coaching staff. There were few better manipulators of the ball in mid-innings than Andy and, although he is left-handed, I’m sure there is a lot I can learn from him,” he wrote in the Guardian.

“One-day cricket in the middle overs is about working the ball into areas that disturb the opposition’s plans. It is about moving the field where you want it to be so that you can then score in the areas you feel more comfortable in. It can require an element of risk, but most of all it involves assessing the situation of the game and playing the right shot at the right time,” he added. The foundation of his batting principle should remain the same. England needs his solidity, and would welcome better judiciousness.

For someone who had been called by Dayle Hadlee as the best 16-year-old he had ever seen, Bell’s progression has not been meteoric, but steady. He’s young enough to play with freedom, yet experienced enough to believe in himself. English cricket needs the steadiness of Bell and Cook as much as it needs the explosiveness of Pietersen and Flintoff.