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April 2009
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Lawrence Booth: Self-styled scapegoat Bell talking a bad game

April 15th, 2009 by Lawrence Booth in England, Test cricket

Getting dropped can be a good thing. Andrew Flintoff came back fitter and leaner after his early battles with the bulge, and managed to convince us he was sticking to cranberry juice. Andrew Strauss has scored seven hundreds in 17 Tests and averaged 54 since he was left out of the tour of Sri Lanka in December 2007. Hell, even Don Bradman was dropped once. But – and I know it’s the question on everyone’s lips – what will happen to Ian Bell?

This blog has already compared and contrasted Bell with Paul Collingwood, his statistical – but not temperamental – near-equal. When Collingwood was one innings away from the chop, he made 135 against South Africa at Edgbaston. When Bell was in a similar position, he scored 28 and 4 against West Indies in Jamaica, getting out both times with an interval approaching and, in the second innings, kickstarting a collapse that ultimately cost England the series. If the timing and execution of that limp cut shot were revealing in their own way, what happens next will reveal even more.

The first step after being dropped – no mean feat for an England batsman of recent vintage – is to accept the error of your ways. Which is why the interview Bell gave to Cricinfo during last week’s game between MCC and Durham at Lord’s was mildly alarming.

Here is what he is quoted as saying about his omission after the Kingston fiasco: “Changes had to be made. It’s difficult: no one got any runs and we were beaten heavily so someone had to go and it was my turn. In the warm-up games the runs came, but obviously I just had that one opportunity in Jamaica and we didn’t play well as a side so changes had to be made.”

You don’t have to read between the lines to discern the sub-text: Bell regards his dropping as a selectorial game of black jack in which he just happened to be unlucky enough to be dealt the wrong card. He believes it was “my turn”; he reckons he “just had that one opportunity”; he paints himself as the scapegoat, taking one for a struggling team.

Only later in the interview (“I have a record I can improve on and I’m desperate as hell to get back into the team”) is there any acknowledgement of a talent that risks going to waste, that has scored one half-century in 12 Test innings since apparently breaking through with 199 against South Africa at Lord’s, that looks better than anyone in England when he is on song. And this is the side of Bell we need to hear more of, the side which also told Sky Sports “I do kick myself sometimes”.

If Bell genuinely feels picked on, he needs his agent and advisor Alec Stewart – dropped more than once in an era when the selectors were far less patient than they are now – to take him to one side and gently point out he doesn’t know he was born. Because until he is able to shed what sounds suspiciously like a sense of grievance, there is no way he can address the issues that cost him his spot in the first place.

As we’ve said before, if the stylish Bell could distil Collingwood’s substance, England would have a world-beater on their hands.

Lawrence Booth writes on cricket for The Guardian. His third book, Cricket, Lovely Cricket? An Addict’s Guide to the World’s Most Exasperating Game is out now published by Yellow Jersey

Posted in England, Test cricket |

3 Responses to “Lawrence Booth: Self-styled scapegoat Bell talking a bad game”

  1.   GoodCricketWicket says:

    Unfortunately, Bell has proved that he is not mentally strong enough for top class international cricket.

    But if he scores runs in the county games, will the selectors recognise this failing or throw him straight back in? The nature of the problem with Bell means that no amount of runs for Warwickshire will tell us whether the problem has been solved or if it remains bubbling under.

  2.   Hofstadter says:

    Bell needs a hard edge surgically transplanted onto him somewhere - perhaps in the region where most people have a spine.

    Give him two seasons to stew in county cricket and then let’s see if he comes back a bit more vinegary. He should emphatically not get a taste of Ashes cricket. Maybe that’ll drive him to show us how much he wants it…

  3.   JC says:

    If England does desperately want Bell in the Test side, maybe they should try him lower down the order, around #5 or 6. That’s the’pretty boy’ position after all - Michael Clarke, Yuvraj Singh, Sourav Ganguly, all of them play(ed) in that position, where they’re expected to come in after the top order has laid a foundation and then accelerate the scoring and look good doing it. That would fit Bell better than playing at #3.

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