Ian Bell, millions of ageing New Men are no doubt ready to declare, is showing the soundest of priorities by flying home from England's first Test debacle – and his own bizarre contribution to it – for the birth of his first child.
This means that any dinosaur out there with the nerve to suggest that Bell might just have had a few other responsibilities to consider before the resumption of action in Mumbai would almost certainly be wise to remain silent. However, there is maybe another argument which does not necessarily involve a gauntlet of outraged sensitivities. It is that Bell – like other hugely rewarded sportsmen who consider home leave in the delivery ward an absolute right – might have weighed his situation a little differently before getting on the India-bound plane.
He might, for instance, have wondered if it would not have been advisable, in the special circumstances and schedule of the tour, to have stayed home in the first place.
He knew the ETA of his first born. It was in the brief hiatus between the first and second Tests, when England, it was reasonable to speculate, might well have been beset by problems of strategy and selection.
As a front-line batsman of often brilliant achievement but significant under-performance on the subcontinent, his certain absence from the second Test was clearly a potential major problem that could have been avoided. But at what cost, the invoking of some ancient belief that men should do what men have to do? No – just an idea that it might be better if England could have relied on the unbroken services of a batsman armed with exposure to Indian conditions in the first Test.
This is not some airy debate about the requirements of the modern father. It is a question of strategy and professionalism and an investigation of possibilities other than that of a key member of a national sports team standing down from duty at a most pivotal phase of his contracted service. We are constantly told that touring the subcontinent is the toughest assignment in cricket and no doubt the conditions are most alien to the English-reared player. This, though, surely underlines the point that it is reasonable to expect the unbroken application of those who accept the challenge.
Bell may indeed have the unequivocal right to attend the birth of his first child but does this have to be at the expense of the vital continuity of effort so necessary to the success of his team? Analysis of Bell's performances thus far suggest that his mind may have been wandering back to England and the imminence of arguably the most profound of all his experiences, the onset of fatherhood, when the challenge of dealing with the Indian spinners was a huge professional imperative.
Certainly some very hardened observers believe that the shot which brought him a first-ball duck a few days ago was arguably one of the most ludicrous ever seen at the Test level. This invites again the question of whether England would have been wiser to have relied on such undistracted contenders as Jonny Bairstow and Eoin Morgan rather than a potentially preoccupied Bell.
Before the Test, Bell was saying that he was aware his decision to fly home might well cost him his England place – and that prospect will be hugely enhanced if Bairstow, who played so splendidly against South Africa at Lord's earlier this summer and has already scored a century in India, takes his chance in Mumbai.
The issue, when you get right down to it, need not be too emotional. It revolves around a little more than the question of whether Bell's natural instinct to be present at the birth should over-ride the needs of his team. No doubt he would say yes.
The feeling here is that a leave of absence from active duty would have better met most requirements. The need is surely to take an uninterrupted mind to the job.Reuse content