So this morning the Duke of Bellington, aka Ian Bell, announced – http://metro.co.uk/2015/08/28/ian-bell-exclusive-im-in-no-way-ready-to-finish-i-still-have-plenty-i-want-to-achieve-in-test-cricket-5364510/ – he’d like to continue playing test cricket (and also announced, rather redundantly, that he has retired from ODIs). I have to say, I’m surprised. I thought he was heading for the very opposite announcement.
What I’m more surprised about though, is that it appears to have been the coaches and captain who have persuaded him to stay. In fact, despite going off to ‘take stock’ just a few days ago, he now has plans to go to Australia in two years’ time to retain the Ashes. Hmm.
I think we can all agree that an Ian Bell cover drive is a thing of beauty and his late cut to third man is the deftest of touches but there’s a sense now that when he plays them we ought to enjoy them while they last because they don’t happen as often and they won’t happen for much longer. Bell now gets plaudits for getting pretty 50s and taking decent catches – the sorts of things that were routine before and barely discussed. When you’re getting rapturous applause for doing something twice in a series that you used to do day-in, day-out, the game is up.
There’s no doubt he’s been a fine player for England who has played some fine innings. But not many recently.
In the last three years, he averages 35.20 in test cricket; in the last two years, 29.24; in the last year, just 24.29. That’s a downward trend if ever I saw one. His career average is down to 43, whereas for a time in 2011 is was around 50.
These stats would suggest he is being picked on reputation. ‘Belly is looking great in the nets’, ‘He’s done it so many times in an England shirt’, ‘Form is temporary, class is permanent’…these phrases and many others like it have been trotted out by selectors, team-mates and supporters but it just doesn’t wash any more.
He’s been a fine England player but it’s time to look around. If Bell can have 22 matches over two years when averaging 29.24 with only two tons, then surely we can afford to give a young batsman a chance to match or beat that?
Assuming Bairstow is retained (with a championship average of 108.89 this year, how could he be dropped? Although they managed to drop him for the ODIs somehow…), then we’re looking at one of Hildreth, Hales or Taylor aren’t we? Although if Root stays at four, a resurgent Ballance could be tried again at five. More from leftfield are other players who have been performing to a high standard year in, year out – Mitchell, Madsen and Vince; or someone in red-hot form like Steve Davies. I still can’t work out what James Taylor has done wrong for England and I’d give him a run.
Just because he wants to keep playing doesn’t mean Ian Bell has to be selected or can’t be dropped. So in the last few weeks of the county season, there’s all to play for and we’ll see who senses a very real opportunity.