IS THE DOOR STILL OPEN FOR BELL?

Big Bash star has hopes of in­ter­na­tional re­call

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Far away, on the other side of the world, Ian Bell has been un­der­stand­ably “out of the loop” about the con­tin­ual spec­u­la­tion hov­er­ing over his for­mer na­tional team­mates. In his ini­ti­a­tion into the Big Bash League, the 34-year-old is the Perth Scorchers’ im­port this sea­son, he has been based in the sunny West­ern Aus­tralian cap­i­tal for the best part of two months.

Dur­ing this pe­riod away, Eng­land were thrashed by an in­nings in the fi­nal two Tests in In­dia to lose the five-match se­ries 4-0. It led to re­newed spec­u­la­tion over Alas­tair Cook’s po­si­tion as cap­tain with in­nu­endo rife that Joe Root will re­place him at some stage, al­though a de­ci­sion could be some time away as Eng­land have a lengthy break from Test cricket.

Well away from the hot­bed of English cricket, Bell’s fo­cus has been else­where but he be­lieves Cook had earned the right to make a call on his fu­ture.

“I’ve been a lit­tle bit out of the loop be­ing over here and not across ev­ery­thing but Cooky has the record to make the call if he be­lieves he doesn’t want to stay on,” Bell tells The Cricket Pa­per.

“If he doesn’t be­lieve he has the en­ergy to cap­tain for the Aus­tralia tour, then he will not want to con­tinue.”

Bell be­lieves if a change hap­pened it should be well be­fore the Ashes se­ries start­ing in Novem­ber. “Joe would ide­ally need to have a stamp on it be­fore the Ashes be­cause it is such a de­mand­ing tour and would be such a tough way to be thrown into the gig,” he says.

Root’s stout tem­per­a­ment has made him Cook’s nat­u­ral suc­ces­sor al­though, in­evitably, some fear the bur­den of the top job could erode his re­mark­able bat­ting. How­ever, dis­miss­ing those con­cerns, Bell be­lieves Root could thrive with the added re­spon­si­bil­ity.

“I don’t think it will af­fect his bat­ting, you just have to look at Steve Smith and I think there are sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween those two,” he says. “He has the right tem­per­a­ment to make a good cap­tain and ev­ery­thing he has done with his bat­ting sug­gests he is pre­pared to do the hard yards and work at it.

“You never know how a cap­tain will fare un­til they have a go, but he’s the man to take over if Cooky steps down.”

Eng­land’s lead­er­ship is un­known for the time be­ing, much like Bell’s in­ter­na­tional prospects, al­though he hasn’t given up on a re­call even though his last Test was over a year ago. Since Bell’s last Test in Novem­ber of 2015, Eng­land have un­der­gone re­gen­er­a­tion cast­ing doubts whether the 34-year-old can re­gain his place. “The dream is still alive and I’ve been told that the door’s not closed,” he says. “If I can start the sea­son well there might be a place.”

Be­ing back in Aus­tralia, Bell can’t es­cape the Ashes chat­ter with in­ter­est swelling on the loom­ing se­ries be­tween the ri­vals. Hav­ing been an in­te­gral part of Eng­land’s Ashes re­nais­sance dur­ing the past decade or so, Bell shares the record of five se­ries vic­to­ries against Aus­tralia with Ian Botham and Wil­fred Rhodes.

With a chance to re-write the record books, Bell re­veals he is itch­ing for an­other crack at cricket’s most iconic ri­valry. “I would love to win six (Ashes se­ries) and that would be a dream come true,” he says. “I have the ex­pe­ri­ence hav­ing played in Aus­tralia three times be­fore so maybe that could be needed.

“If I don’t (earn a Test re­call) then I have no re­grets, as I had a long ca­reer with plenty of team suc­cess. I grew up watch­ing Eng­land hav­ing no suc­cess, so it has been amaz­ing to be part of a good era for Eng­land and to have played with some of our great­est play­ers.”

Bell had hoped a suc­cess­ful BBL tour­na­ment would be the launch­ing pad for the English sum­mer ahead and, even­tu­ally, a re­call into the na­tional team. In his first BBL sea­son, Bell’s grav­i­tas and calm de­meanour have been ideal for the Scorchers, moulded in the spit­ting im­age of Justin Langer, their no-non­sense coach. He hasn’t scored a half-cen­tury since his open­ing knock of 61 against the Ade­laide Strik­ers, but re­mains a key fig­ure in the team.

Hav­ing watched plenty of BBL on tele­vi­sion pre­vi­ously, Bell says he has not been sur­prised by the surg­ing pop­u­lar­ity of the tour­na­ment but ad­mits it is thrilling to be part of. “I’ve watched

it closely at home so knew it was a bril­liant do­mes­tic tour­na­ment and had set high stan­dards,” he says. “The thing that I have re­ally loved is the sup­port you get, the fact I’m an English­man….the en­emy….has been for­got­ten and the fans are des­per­ate to see you do well. The fans re­ally get be­hind their teams.”

Af­ter wit­ness­ing at the coal face the ram­pag­ing suc­cess of the BBL, which has be­come a money spin­ner for Cricket Aus­tralia, Bell be­lieves the T20 Blast needs to be over­hauled. He be­lieves a BBL-style for­mat of fewer teams rather than the cur­rent tra­di­tional struc­ture of 18 coun­ties should be adopted by English cricket chiefs.

“I think it could take English cricket to an­other level,” he says. “What has struck me (about the BBL) is the fam­ily side of it. The BBL’s au­di­ence is amaz­ing, con­sid­er­ing the amount of fam­i­lies at the games and it is great to see the next gen­er­a­tion be­ing part of it. The BBL is set up so well with just eight teams and all the matches be­ing on (free-to-air) tele­vi­sion. With 18 teams (in the T20 Blast) you can lose track of what is hap­pen­ing and it is harder to fol­low com­pared to the BBL.”

Bell’s ini­ti­a­tion into Aus­tralia’s T20 do­mes­tic com­pe­ti­tion has marked a re­turn to the city where he lived and played right be­fore his lengthy in­ter­na­tional ca­reer started.

In 2003-04, the then 21-year-old played club cricket in Perth af­ter be­ing en­ticed by leg­endary West­ern Aus­tralian cricket fig­ure John In­ver­ar­ity. Play­ing club cricket in Aus­tralia for pre­co­cious English­men is a rite of pas­sage, and vice versa, with Bell hon­ing his blos­som­ing bat­ting that Aus­tralian sum­mer lead­ing to his Test de­but against the West Indies in 2004.

It was the spring­board to a re­mark­able ca­reer where Bell was a main­stay in the English team for 12 years, play­ing 118 Tests and notch­ing 22 cen­turies to, un­doubt­edly, be­come one of his coun­try’s most ac­com­plished bats­men.

Be­ing back in Perth, Bell finds him­self think­ing back to a younger ver­sion of him­self, a fledg­ling bats­man still un­sure of the road ahead. “In many ways, it is a nos­tal­gic trip be­ing back in Perth,” he says. “It is where ev­ery­thing started for me and helped me learn my trade. If it wasn’t for my time here, I prob­a­bly wouldn’t have made my Test de­but that early. It feels right be­ing here, Perth was the per­fect place to come.”

Per­haps his in­ter­na­tional prospects re­main for­lorn but, right now, Bell’s un­wa­ver­ing fo­cus is help­ing the Scorchers win a third BBL ti­tle. Af­ter de­feat­ing the Mel­bourne Stars in the semi-fi­nal, where Bell made a cameo with an un­beaten 26 from 15 balls, the Scorchers will host the BBL fi­nal at the WACA on Satur­day.

“Ev­ery game in the BBL has a twist, so it proves how hard it is to go all the way,” Bell says. “If we are fo­cused and ex­e­cute our skills then there is no rea­son why we can’t do it.

“I came here to help the Scorchers win the ti­tle, so it would be a great start to the year if that was to hap­pen.”

“In many ways it is a nos­tal­gic trip be­ing back in Perth. It is where ev­ery­thing started for me and helped me to learn my trade “

PIC­TURE: Getty Im­ages

Fans’ favourite: Ian Bell signs au­to­graphs for Perth Scorchers sup­port­ers af­ter beat­ing the Mel­bourne Stars

Eng­land duty: Joe Root, left, with cap­tain Alas­tair Cook

Ashes mae­stro: Ian Bell cel­e­brates a ton for Eng­land in the 2013 se­ries

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