Cricketers, at least those with ambition, love to give the selectors a headache. Or so they say. What they really mean, of course, is that they would like to stake such a rock solid claim that no one with an ounce of common sense could possibly look in any other direction. Step forward Ian Bell
The Warwickshire batsman has not had to worry about his right to a place in England's Test team for a couple of years now. But while he has hit a wonderfully rich vein of form while batting at No 5 or 6, there is no doubt which position he would choose to occupy, given half a chance.
Bell made his thoughts plain as long ago as 2007 when he was most definitely not nailed into any spot, despite possessing all the talent in the world. "I told Mooresy [the then England coach, Peter Moores] that I would bat anywhere but I also said my long-term ambition was to bat at first drop," he wrote in a newspaper column after Michael Vaughan had returned to the team after injury. "What batsman doesn't?"
Since then, and thanks to a sequence that has seen him score eight centuries in 20 Tests, spread over two years, Bell's figures have combined to produce pinch-me averages of 58 and 65 at Nos 6 and 5 respectively. On the other hand, even though he completed his first double hundred at the highest level during yesterday's continued demolition of India's bowling, his return at No 3 is around the 40 mark.
Lies, damn lies and statistics? Well, there is a bit of that, for sure. Most of Bell's 36 innings as a Test No 3 came at a time when he had all the style but not half the substance of the man we see now – as in the 2006-7 Ashes whitewash series when Australia's bowlers brushed him aside on almost every occasion.
"I always knew I had some unfinished business at No 3," he said last night. "At times when I was up the order before, I was probably not mature enough and I believe I'm a much better cricketer now. I've enjoyed the challenge in this series of showing everyone what I can do at No 3." And show us he has, to give England's hierarchy some food for thought.
Moving up two places in Nottingham after Jonathan Trott damaged his shoulder severely enough to miss the rest of the series, Bell batted sublimely to make 159. It was his first hundred, at the 34th attempt, as a No 3. At Edgbaston, his home ground, the 29-year-old forgot to play himself in before trying to make hay. But in this match, with England under a touch of pressure for once, he did the basics beautifully, then blossomed so spectacularly even partner Pietersen was happy to stand back and watch the show.
So what is the problem? Well, there isn't one, really, except that England already have a No 3 who has an average of 54 after 30 innings, and he was named Cricketer of the Year only a couple of months ago. His name is Trott. Come their next Test, against Pakistan early in 2012, Trott is likely to be the first player padded up after the openers. "We are looking forward to getting Trotty back and I'm pretty sure next series I will be back at No 5," said Bell.
Spoken like a realist. But you cannot keep a good man down for too long. Before any of that, though, England are keen to complete a 4-0 whitewashing of India. The knives are out for the visitors, and the criticism will only get sharper if they lose again here, but bowling coach Eric Simmons bridled last night when asked whether India were ashamed. "I don't think that is the right word to use," he said. "Disappointed."