Before the first Test began, Ian Bell was out of form and out of favour. The way things were going, he would soon be out of his mind. It became so wretched in Lahore that he was bowled in the nets by a slower ball which he played so far round that he might as well have been in Karachi.
This was bad enough but the delivery in question was conveyed by the team doctor. It was fortunate that Dr Peter Gregory was so close at hand since it is the sort of aberration for which an international batsman might seek medical help.
"Being bowled by the doc was not the pleasantest of feelings," said Bell with coy understatement last night after he had gone some way to putting it all behind him by scoring 71 against Pakistan. "Let's just say it was character building."
Doc Gregory's extra-curricular activity, the most potent by a member of the medical profession since Doc Holliday played at the OK Corral, was probably not the sole reason that Bell was omitted from the team in Multan but it embodied his misery. He was fresh from a summer in which he had scored 171 runs in 10 innings against Australia, culminating in a pair.
Then, Michael Vaughan injured his knee while running in a straight line in the last warm-up match in Pakistan. Gregory, returning to the day job, spent three days assessing his fitness. Two days before the Test, Vaughan was out, Bell was back in - and not only back in but batting a place higher at three.
From being excluded he was being asked to fill a pivotal role in the team, one not only filled by the present captain but by many of the greatest luminaries in English cricket.
There was an early wicket when England were on 18, and Bell strode out purposefully. He was given a half volley or two and he dealt with them summarily like a Victorian magistrate clipping a street urchin round the ear.
However, he did not quite flow with unrelenting smoothness. There was a period after lunch when Danish Kaneria's leg-spin befuddled him. But he got through it and this is the real mark of a truly good batsman, one who will buckle down when it is tough out there. Usually, he moved with authority, always refusing to be ruffled and, while he never reached that happy state where he might have got out the slippers and watched a DVD, he looked at home again at the crease.
A little push for a single brought him his sixth score above 50 in Test cricket (cheap but explosive runs against Bangladesh have kept his average above 40). There was then the odd incident of the slower ball from Shoaib Akhtar, which showed that Doc Gregory was on to something. This was a demonic delivery which bowled Bell through his legs. It was made more difficult because he had somehow forgotten to have the sight screen returned to its previous position when Shoaib came back over the wicket instead of round. A call of no ball spared him total embarrassment, though a collective call from his colleagues on the dressing-room balcony drew attention to his oversight.
Bell was replaced by Paul Collingwood, who had been selected ahead of him in the side. Collingwood is a solid professional who has waited dutifully for his chance, but the Durham all-rounder did not compare well with Bell yesterday.
"I'd been dropped so in a way there was no pressure, so I went out there relaxed, whatever happened, meaning to enjoy it, which I did," said Bell. "I want to establish myself in this team." He has renewed his opportunity.Reuse content