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The return of Ian Bell: To be or not to be?

10.46K   //    28 Aug 2018, 23:15 IST

They say, never look back at the past, only focus on the present. This might be true in most of the situations but certainly not for the England cricket team’s opening and #3 batsmen. After Andrew Strauss’ retirement, there has been only one player who has continuously held onto his opening slot, Alastair Cook.

The English have tried many openers and #3 batsmen in the past, and they have chopped and changed personnel after almost every series. Unfortunately, no player has been able to cement his position.

Keaton Jennings, Mark Stoneman and Michael Carberry were tried for the openers slot. Keaton Jennings made his test debut against India in 2016. He scored a brilliant century on debut, but post that has averaged only 23. What’s more staggering is that its been almost 12 years since he made his debut and he has played only 10 matches.

The selectors then tried Michael Carberry. He was chosen as Cook’s partner in the Ashes series of 2014. He unfortunately was on the receiving end of a fiery Mitchel Johnson and could not make a mark for himself. In his short career of 6 matches, he averaged a dismal 29.

Finally, Mark Stoneman was the last trial for the openers slot. His performance in the Ashes of 2017 gave a glimmer of hope to England’s selection committee. It seemed that they could see light at the end of the tunnel. Alas, even after having got an extended run, he couldn’t cement his spot. Now, England have gone back to Keaton Jennings as their opener for the current series against India.

Jennings' Century on test debut
Jennings' Century on test debut

The #3 batsman is crucial in test match cricket. Often when the openers get out cheaply, he is the one who lays the foundation for the team to set up a good first innings total. After Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott, the English could never find a suitable #3 batsman.

Over the past, they have experimented with Gary Balance, James Vince, and at times even pushed Joe Root up the batting order. Ian Bell was the best of them all. Bell’s technique was impeccable and he was a purist. There was nothing better for the eyes than to see Bell play the cover drive.

He has played a total of 118 test matches and scored 7727 runs at an average of 43. Then came Jonathan Trott. In just 52 matches, he scored 3835 runs at an average of 44. Getting him out after he was set, was a nightmare for the bowlers. Sadly, for England and himself, he quit test cricket due to personal reasons.

Both Bell and Trott were prolific run scorers and the team achieved great results under them. Ever since Trott retired, there has been a continuous quest to fill the void that was created. England experimented with Gareth Ballance, but after a few good scores, his performance fell off the cliff.

He used to get good starts, but could never go on to get the big score. Then it was the turn of James Vince. He was introduced in the 'Down Under' Ashes series of 2014. Vince played a few gutsy innings and showed character but lacked consistency and eventually that led to his undoing. In the current series with India, Joe Root has once again been pushed up the batting order to #3.

The selection committee is probably helpless now. They have tried so many combinations, but none have worked. To give the committee, their fair due, they have given all the batsman a prolonged run, yet none has been able to seal his position in the team. Steve Harmison, one of England’s most destructive fast bowlers feels that it is time to get back Ian Bell.

Bell has also produced terrific performances that merit his selection. He is currently in a purple patch and averages 55 in the County Championship. His return to the team, will definitely provide the much-needed stability that England need in their top order.

Looking at some of the decisions the English selectors have made for the current series against India, suggests that they are willing to look back at the past. Keaton Jennings’ selection is an example of this.

This is also evident from the fact that Joe Root has once again been pushed up the order to #3. Is a third event in this sequence likely? Will the selectors bite the bullet and create a path for Ian Bell’s return? Only time will tell. 

Ian Bell playing the elegant cover drive
Ian Bell playing the elegant cover drive

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