Ian Bell, famously coined ‘the Sherminator’ by Shane Warne during the 2006/7 Ashes series (after the ginger haired geek in the American Pie film Trilogy), approaches the beginning of 12 months that could make or break his reputation as a Test cricketer, writes Paul McDonald, exclusively for The Village Cricketer).
I’ve always been a fan of Bell. He is technically correct, compact and equally adept off both the front and back foot. During his maiden test innings (an impressive 70 against the West Indies in 2004) he reminded me of Michael Atherton (albeit with more of a desire to play shots). Aside from a brief period on the sidelines in early 2006, he has been a near permanent fixture in the England Test side since the glorious Ashes summer of 2005 (filling his boots with 227 unbeaten runs in two tests against woeful Bangladesh certainly did his average no harm).
Bell averages 42, has 8 centuries in 43 tests (not far off Boycott’s oft-quoted 1 in 5 conversion requirement), so what’s the problem? Well, quite frankly, I expect more.
A batting average of over 40 no longer cuts the mustard, it is simply not enough. The last decade has brought with it substantial improvements in bat technology and pitch preparation. England are touring the sub-continent with increasing regularity where, new ball negotiation aside, batters are able to build centuries at will (TVC has already said that England are ‘better able and better inclined to build the slow, steady centuries required’ – I wholeheartedly agree).
Once described as ‘the best 16-year old I have ever seen’ by Dayle Hadlee (Brother to Sir Richard and respected coach), Bell has hardly set the test world alight. Having done just about enough to justify batting first wicket down for the upcoming series, I wonder how long it will be before media pressure pushes Kevin Pietersen up to number three?
There are positives I can draw upon. Bell’s series tally against Pakistan in 2005/6, 313 runs at 52 is an achievement not to be sniffed at. He also scored three centuries in three tests, again against the Pakistanis (in 2006). Recently, his 199 against the Saffers at Lords suggested Bell had finally come of age.
Alas, this was a thought that proved misplaced. Consolation dead rubber victory aside, England were soundly beaten by an impressive outfit and Bell contributed just 133 runs at 22 during the rest of the series (on another note, I too am very much looking forward to the upcoming Australia versus South Africa confrontations. Finally, in 20 innings, Bell has yet to make a century against the Aussies – hardly a record befitting a world class number three.
So what’s required over the next 12 months?
I want to see more of a combative attitude from Bell. Who can forget Owais Shah’s test debut, batting at number three, sledging the Indian Bowlers during his 88 at Mumbai in 2006 (I always enjoy seeing Harbhajan and Sreesanth getting smashed around)?. A Test number three should be dictating the pace of the game in all conditions and Bell needs to step up. At 26 years of age, the next 5 years could be a golden period. I want to see him averaging over 50 against India and the West Indies (both home and away), I want to see him compiling significant scores where the pitches are friendly (India) and when the bowling attacks lack quality and experience (the Windies). Bell should be approaching the 2009 Ashes at the peak of his powers, ready to demolish the Aussies without fearing the now retired McGrath/Warne combination. Let’s hope the Sherminator can deliver.
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