IS THE DOOR STILL OPEN FOR BELL?
Big Bash star has hopes of international recall
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 “
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