Bell benefits from time in Australian finishing school

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The Independent Online

Paranoid Englishmen often berate counties for employing Australians. They feel the world champions use our domestic game as a finishing school to turn the likes of Justin Langer, Matthew Hayden and Michael Clarke into world-class players.

Paranoid Englishmen often berate counties for employing Australians. They feel the world champions use our domestic game as a finishing school to turn the likes of Justin Langer, Matthew Hayden and Michael Clarke into world-class players.

There is truth in this jaundiced view, but England is not the only country to help others develop. Australian state sides may not employ overseas players, but many English cricketers have benefited enormously from playing cricket Down Under.

Alec Stewart spent several 1980s winters in Perth. Andrew Strauss and Kevin Pietersen (Sydney), Paul Collingwood (Melbourne) and Geraint Jones (Brisbane), have also benefited from winters in Australia.

Ian Bell, who scored 75 on Sunday in England's first one-day match against Zimbabwe, can be added to this list. In 2001, at 19 years and 115 days, he became the youngest Warwickshire player to score a Championship century. From the 2001-02 National Academy tour Bell was rushed to New Zealand to cover Mark Butcher. But for a day's rain - allowing Butcher to recover - he would have made his Test debut.

The right-hander again came close in 2002, but, after missing selection to face Sri Lanka,Bell's form slipped. The next year was no better and Warwickshire coach, John Inverarity, suggested he spend a winter in Perth.

"I spent a lot of time going around in circles," said Bell. "The runs were not coming and I got into a vicious cycle where it wasn't happening for me and I was just getting more and more frustrated. I was working on technical things when it was probably what was going through my head that counted.

"But last winter I went away and got rid of all that stuff and focused on the simple things. Getting away from English cricket and Warwickshire helped. In Perth nobody really knew me and this allowed me to play my cricket and start enjoying it again. I worked at my game during the week and then put it to the test at the weekend."

Warwickshire benefited from Bell's experience. His six centuries helped The Bears win the County Championship and Bell scored 1,714 first-class runs at an average of 68.56 in 2004. This put him back into the Test picture and his long-awaited debut came at The Oval against the West Indies where he scored a dextrous 70.

Bell was overlooked for the forthcoming Tests in South Africa but the Aussies loom next summer. If he plays, Australians may question whether they should allow Englishmen to better themselves Down Under.

¿ Australia took firm control of the second Test against New Zealand in Adelaide yesterday, reducing the tourists to 149 for 5 on the fourth day, chasing 464.

¿ Virender Sehwag hit 82 not out as India reached 129 for 1 on the second day of the second Test in Calcutta yesterday. South Africa were earlier bowled out for 305.

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