A gradual but inevitable descent into cricket-based loathing and bile.

Stop Ringing Ian’s Bell

Posted on February 19, 2013 by in Opinion, Tests

Over the weekend, Scyld Berry called for Ian Bell to be axed from England’s Test side for the upcoming series with New Zealand. It’s not the first time someone has called for his head and it won’t be the last, but this one struck a nerve. The piece was more than just a confusing argument; it represented the seemingly ceaseless dismissals of his performances for England.

This point of view is becoming tiresome. Since returning to the England Test team post-Jamaica dumping in 2009 Bell has risen to almost every challenge placed in front of him. He has headed off the insatiable detractors at every turn, yet still seems to be a magnet for criticism. In this instance Berry argues for Joe Root to take Bell’s place in New Zealand, with the latter reduced to some sort of fire-fighting role should it all go to pieces against Australia in the summer.

Bell celebrates after another yet hundred

Bell celebrates after another hundred

Leaving aside that he seems to have forgotten Root is already in possession of a Test spot, meaning this argument shouldn’t even be Root v Bell in the first place, he completely glosses over the Warwickshire man’s good run of recent form and places far too much emphasis on a very small sample size of Root’s international performances. That England’s next big thing is exceptionally talented and has begun his career at the top level superbly is not in doubt, but using one Test (a Test in which he was outscored by one IR Bell, at that) as proof he should replace a man with nearly 6000 runs is ludicrous.

There is no doubt Bell had a difficult 2012, but it’s a year which should be put into context. England lost half their Test matches, they lost their captain mid-way through and beyond Alastair Cook (and Kevin Pietersen, for the most part) none of the batsmen had a particularly good time of it. There were some truly appalling shot selections in India which spoke of a scrambled mind, yet he still made a century in the final game – which Berry apparently slept through, for he does not mention it despite making a big play of Root’s 73 in the first innings – having come in with England still under pressure, made runs in Galle, was virtually single-handed in his resistance at the Oval and helped Jonny Bairstow steer England towards respectability at Lord’s.

Since Andy Flower took over, Bell averages 70.76 in home Test matches. He averaged 65.80 in the last away Ashes series. England’s next 13 matches after New Zealand are either at home or in Australia. Perhaps these numbers should count for more than a 73 made against Ishant Sharma. If Berry’s argument was that England should rotate their squad for this tour then it would have some merit. It might be worth giving Root, Bairstow and Nick Compton the opportunity to prove their worth while the big guns rest up for a busy 18 months. Instead he’s chosen an easy target to push the case for the current flavour of the month.

Quite what Bell has to do to dispel the critics for good is anyone’s guess. He averaged over 100 in 2011 and that still didn’t work; Michael Clarke averaged a similar amount in 2012 and seems to be on the brink of sainthood. The parameters shift when it comes to Ian Bell. In one day cricket, too, his place is ‘under threat’ (at least in the eyes of those outside the management team) constantly. First he couldn’t excel in that format, then he couldn’t do it in India, now he can’t do it in big chases. Heading into the New Zealand series his average since returning to the top of the order last summer is almost 56; only two players in history have a higher career average than that. Still people aren’t satisfied. Still there is a constant call for someone else, someone ‘better’.

And he bats like this

And he bats like this

Maybe true appreciation will only come once he’s gone. England have a lot of talented young batsmen; none are anywhere near ready to replace someone of Bell’s calibre yet. Bairstow has struggled all winter while Root is very inexperienced and, in any case, is (one imagines) already pencilled in to start in Dunedin. It’s time to lay off their number five. The failings he supposedly suffers from are, almost universally, the failings he had during the first part of his career and have been emphatically overcome during his second coming. He has 17 Test hundreds; more than Atherton and Thorpe, more than Amiss, Edrich and Gatting. And a better average than all of those players too. Unfortunately, old opinions die hard. What will it take to silence the doubters?


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Nichael Bluth

20 Feb 2013 13:20

Pretty much everything we do is unreliable. That’s what makes it fun.


Stuart Johnson

20 Feb 2013 12:12

It wasn’t the stat I nicked, just the methodology… (or are you saying that gin-induced statistics methodology is also less than reliable?)


Auckland Here We Come…. | How Did We Lose In Adelaide

20 Feb 2013 11:44

[…] new favourite site, 51allout, has a piece on Ian Bell today (or yesterday) which I probably disagreed with in nearly every regard, but not for the reasons Scyld […]


Nichael Bluth

20 Feb 2013 11:37

Don’t be nicking stats from this website. We make them up about 90% of the time.


Stuart Johnson

20 Feb 2013 11:10

Why is it that Bell gets all the critisism yet no one seems to query Trott’s place in the test side? Since his 203 against Sri Lanka in Cardiff (May 2011) Trott has averaged only 35.4 and his 10-Innings Average (a stat I nicked from this website!) has consistently been below his consistently-falling batting average almost as long. If anyone’s position should be up for discussion, it should be Trott’s (IMHO).



20 Feb 2013 10:29

Berry’s article was rather sly in proposing that Root should bat at 5 instead of Bell, because he then advocated Bairstow at 6 without creating an argument for it. I think Berry used Root as a Trojan horse to get Bairstow in the side. So the real substitution was Bairstow for Bell, something which even Berry in his wildest moments couldn’t justify on recent form.

Unfortunately it just makes Berry look completely ridiculous. Root is already in the Test side. Bell’s record is superb and he looks currently in really good form. Whatever his critics think he is acknowledged world wide as a top class player. You don’t achieve that after 83 Tests unless you have proven ability and stickability. The fact that most of the moaners and arch detractors have to return to 2005 to produce a stick to beat him with is comical.

Bell has seen hyped players come and go. He has seen the media baying for his blood. Every mistimed shot is criticised as culpable homicide. He’s a fabulous stroke player who barely rates a line of praise. Fraility? He must be tough as old boots to ignore all the abuse over the years. He’s not the darling of the media or the faux macho pack with their anti-Bell sneers. So he’s not cursed with celebrity status. But quite a few recognise that he is a very special player (including the Indian commentary team).


James Knight

19 Feb 2013 14:09

Particularly when three of the four above him for most of his international career are three of the highest century makers England have ever had.

He was rubbish in that first series, undoubtedly. But that’s ages ago!



19 Feb 2013 13:08

Agrre that Lord Bell faces far more questions about his place than anyone else, I think it stems from that first ashes series where he struggled.

Still can’t believe how much crap was made of him not scoring a hundred unless someone else had already done so. He bats at 5 and 6 most of the time so the odds of someone already having scored a hundred are pretty high.