Bell strikes right note with selectors to claim key spot

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The Independent Online

Ian Bell was yesterday given the chance to follow in the footsteps of Wally Hammond, Ted Dexter and David Gower when he was named in the England squad for the first npower Test against Bangladesh in 10 days time. The Warwickshire batsman beat off challenges from Robert Key and Kevin Pietersen, and is set to bat in the pivotal No 3 position.

Ian Bell was yesterday given the chance to follow in the footsteps of Wally Hammond, Ted Dexter and David Gower when he was named in the England squad for the first npower Test against Bangladesh in 10 days time. The Warwickshire batsman beat off challenges from Robert Key and Kevin Pietersen, and is set to bat in the pivotal No 3 position.

Bell, who scored 70 on his Test debut against the West Indies last summer, has been outstanding this season, and, by omitting Key and Pietersen from a 12-man squad, the selectors have given a clear indication of their plans for the summer. Bangladesh are unlikely to put England under real pressure, but the two matches will give Michael Vaughan and Duncan Fletcher, the England captain and coach, the opportunity to put plans for the forthcoming Ashes series into practice.

This should include Bell batting at three. With Mark Butcher still recovering from wrist surgery, and Pietersen's style being more suited to No 5, Bell and Key were the strongest candidates for this spot. Key, who has averaged 44.25 in his last seven Test matches batting at three, will consider himself unfortunate, but Bell's sounder technique, along with his useful medium-pace bowling, rightly got him the nod.

Mashrafe bin Mortaza and Mohammad Rafique will not test the 23-year- old in the way that Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne will in July, but the value of playing three or four more Test innings, even against a weak side, should not be underestimated.

Many people believe that Stephen Harmison suddenly transformed himself from a fast bowler with potential into the real deal on that memorable afternoon in Jamaica when he took 7 for 12. He did not. Harmison travelled to the West Indies with confidence because he had taken nine wickets the last time he played for England, in Dhaka. It did not matter to Harmison who the opposition were. Against Bangladesh he proved to himself that he could perform in Test cricket, and Bell has the same chance over the next three weeks.

The selectors' decisiveness should be applauded as it ended speculation about England's batting line-up. Before Vaughan's squad gather at Lord's in a week's time, Graham Thorpe must prove he has recovered from the back injury which made him miss Surrey's recent Championship match against Glamorgan. Surrey have three one-day games in the next five days and the 35-year-old should play in all of them.

Thorpe is beginning to look his age in the field but it has been staggering to hear speculation he might be dropped. The left hander's England form has been superb since he regained his place in the Test side in 2003. He is also one of only two England players - Vaughan is the other - to have a decent Test record against the Australians.

"Kevin Pietersen has received a lot of media attention," said David Graveney, the England chairman of selectors. "We had to make a choice between him and Graham Thorpe, who did well in the last Test he played and is our most experienced player. Kevin was discussed as an option within the middle-order, but the selectors decided to opt for the experience of Thorpe, who we hope will recover from injury in time to win his 99th Test cap.

"Ian Bell is an emerging player of international quality who performed well on his Test debut last year and has taken his excellent form on the England A tour into the domestic season. He fully deserves this opportunity to press his claims for a regular place in our Test side."

England's selectors will also monitor the fitness of Simon Jones. A back complaint forced the fast bowler to miss Glamorgan's last two Championship matches, but he played yesterday in a Totesport League match against Essex. Should Jones fail to convince the selectors of his recovery in this match, or the four-day game against Hampshire which starts on Friday, Jon Lewis will make his Test debut.

The Gloucestershire seamer is an old-fashioned English bowler. The 29-year-old does not have the pace and hostility of Harmison or Andrew Flintoff, but he takes wickets hitting the seam and pitching the ball in the right area. He deserves his chance.

The squad

England's XII to play Bangladesh

M P Vaughan (capt)

M E Trescothick

A J Strauss

I R Bell

G P Thorpe

A Flintoff

G O Jones

A F Giles

M J Hoggard

S P Jones

S J Harmison

J Lewis

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