Bell returns to face familiar hostilities

The Pom Aussies love to berate tries to ignore resumed war of words ahead of Test
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The Independent Online

To be dropped by England shocks a player. He might have seen it coming but the after-affects can endure for months. For Ian Bell, everything he was missing was there in full view on television in the first Test of this summer when England went out at Lord's to play the West Indies.

Bell might have expected to be in St John's Wood, but he was 100 miles up the road at Edgbaston, waiting to play for Warwickshire. The men whom he was watching, walking out to do battle in London, were his former team-mates.

"For me, seeing it here on the big screen and being at Edgbaston, it really hit home, what it means to be involved in a Test match for your country," he said yesterday. "For that first 10 minutes I couldn't think of anything else but that. I had to quickly get that out of my mind because I was playing a game here. That was one moment I realised how much it hurt."

He has been recalled after missing eight matches, omitted for the first time following the unexpected defeat to the West Indies in Kingston. Bell is back because of the injury to Kevin Pietersen and will fill his considerable switch-hitting, flamingo-shot boots at number four. His recall was put in slight doubt when he went over on his ankle during a team footballing session on Monday evening, but England's medical team, who put him through his paces yesterday, expect no late alarms.

Bell has played 10 Test matches against Australia and has a batting average against them of 25. The 2005 series (when he batted at four) was understandable; that in 2006-07 should have produced greater dividends. As if replacing Pietersen did not bring sufficient attention, the paltry figures enhance it.

"To be involved in that team in 2005 and win the Ashes was the best thing that's ever happened to me," he said. "It was a bit of an eye-opener, at 23, to see what Test cricket was all about. That seems a long time ago, I'm an improved player, I've got more runs in Test cricket since then, I'm a better player than in 2005, so I'm just looking forward to getting an opportunity again."

Bell won many more admirers by his response to being dropped in the West Indies. He was unhappy but there was no moaning, no long face. Instead, he began a regime of getting up at 6am every morning and training with the team's head of security Reg Dickason.

"It was two months that could have gone either way," said Bell. "I could have been sitting on my bum not doing a lot, or getting up and making sure by the time the England season came around I was ready to worry about cricket and nothing else. It put me in a position to be next in line.

"I knew I had an opportunity to nail something. You don't always get the opportunity to do that. By the end of it I'd be on my knees. It was boxing and a lot of shuttles. Reg was pretty good to me. He wanted to work me hard."

Australia's reaction to Bell's inclusion has ranged from guardedly complimentary to scathing. In the latter camp, Shane Warne has had his usual two penn'orth and Michael Clarke, the vice-captain, yesterday joined the former. Ricky Ponting, the captain, has pitched somewhere between, casting Bell as a nervous kind of bloke.

"You do a lot of thinking inside about what you're going to do when you next get that opportunity," said Bell. "I'm 27. I still think I've got a lot to offer international cricket. I want to improve my record against Australia. I want to become one of the best players in England and I want to keep improving. If I want to get rid of that name tag I have to play well against Australia. That's a fact."

England may well tap into his expertise on Edgbaston pitches. Apparently, they have neither swung much nor turned much and that judgement can alter between 9am and 10.30am. "I'm pretty sure it'll be very good for batting." How he must hope he's right.

Chucking pies: Shermanator under fire

* The former Australian bowler Shane Warne has labelled Ian Bell's recall as the "return of The Shermanator", referring to the Warwickshire batsman's resemblance to a character from the 1999 film American Pie. He added that the Australian bowlers could "take Bell any day", predicting Peter Siddle will do a similar job to that of Glenn McGrath in the 2005 series when Bell struggled.

* The Australian captain Ricky Ponting also sees injured Kevin Pietersen as a "massive loss" to England. In The Australian , Ponting describes Bell as a "technically correct but scratchy player", questioning his temperament as a "nervous sort of bloke".

* Bell has dismissed these remarks, saying it "doesn't bother him at all. Warney keeps doing that sort of stuff, it doesn't come as a surprise. It's a matter of going out and playing my own cricket." Which is all very noble... but surely a few well-timed words about Mitchell Johnson's mum would be better fun?

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