Could Bell's new maturity lead him to pip Cook to captaincy?

England's next Test leader has virtually been anointed – but over recent months the Warwickshire batsman has emerged as a serious contender to lead his country
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Orders of succession, once designated, are hard to change. For instance, HH Princess Ragnhild is probably not about to receive a call at home in Rio de Janeiro saying she is being moved up from 74th in line to the British throne.

It seems a similar case with England's cricket captaincy. A line of succession has been ordained. Andrew Strauss is the Test captain and when he abdicates, the job will pass on to Alastair Cook, with Stuart Broad the next nomination.

This is not an official list, though when Strauss relinquished the one-day captaincy recently, the selectors gave the game away by appointing Cook in his stead and while they were about it, made Broad the Twenty20 captain. Cook, to boot, had already substituted for Strauss on the tour of Bangladesh last year and was the vice-captain on the winter tour of Australia. Other than stipulating that all future captains should be descended in a direct line from Sir Pelham Warner, the selectors could hardly have been more explicit. In Cook they reckon they have a natural heir presumptive, a man with qualities of leadership, loyalty and discretion, and a sack full of runs. Broad has long been the golden boy, at 24 one of the few automatic selections for all forms of the game.

So far, so straightforward. But when the time comes it may need more than a courier to transfer the seals of office. In the past few months another member of the England team is laying claim to consideration.

It is not only Ian Bell's stature as a batsman that has altered. The view of him as a smart, intelligent cricketer who understands the nuances of the game, is tactically aware and bursting with ideas has gained in popularity.

Bell has always been an eminently likeable, approachable chap. But despite the plain talent, he could be dismissed as a bit soft. He got out to gormless shots too often, you never knew which shade of blond his hair might be from day to day.

Four years ago, the mystery of the jelly beans descended on English cricket. It has never been solved. What happened was that jelly beans were placed around the crease when the Indian bowler Zaheer Khan came out to bat. When he moved them, more appeared.

The finger of suspicion pointed at many of England's team that day – the wholly innocent Kevin Pietersen was the first to be remonstrated with by Zaheer, possibly on the grounds adopted by everybody else, that if you're going to have a go at someone, have a go at Kev. But the man most often in the frame these days is Bell.

And you can imagine it of him then, nice bloke but a boy who could not quite see the consequences of his actions, assuming practical jokes were hugely funny. He was a kid, cruelly dubbed the "Shermanator" by Shane Warne. Bell is no longer that man, or not all of him.

He led Warwickshire to the forty-over Cup last season, not only scoring a century but impressing with his calmness and shrewdness while directing fielding operations. Earlier this season, he was asked to be captain in three Championship games, when Jim Troughton was injured, and immediately looked like the man in charge.

Strauss has commended him for continuing to come up with ideas in the field. There is a sense that he has an instinctive knowledge of the game, what to do and when. Maybe it comes from having played for England in every age-group side.

Once it might have been said that he was too anxious to please, but to have revived his career after he was so casually written off – one newspaper dissected the shot which led to his downfall at a crucial time in a Test – has taken guts and maturity. He can still give his wicket away too easily, but he takes longer about it.

If the change in Bell has been marked – he was married in April – Cook has always been a safe pair of hands, not designed for throwing jelly beans. When he won the two Tests in Bangladesh last year he did not put a foot wrong, but then he did not have to put many right.

Cook caused much ribaldry among the press in Australia when in the space of a 10-minute briefing he used the word "obviously" almost 40 times. Nothing, however, was as obvious as his discomfort.

It was swiftly pointed out, as it has been since, that Cook is much more articulate in the dressing room, which is much more important than pleasing a bunch of voracious reporters with a well-honed soundbite. If his batting, marked by sheer concentration and an inability to become flustered, also represents his captaincy style, then, obviously, it is possible to see the advantages of that.

There will probably be no change for two or three years, though sporting events can move rapidly. Cook is the intended successor, but he should not be anointed yet.

The captaincy test

How does Alastair Cook, the heir apparent as England captain, compare to potential rival Ian Bell?

Leadership

Cook's calm dependability makes him widely respected in the dressing room. Bell has come of age rapidly in the past year and there is a sense that the England team recognise his strategic skills.

Experience

Cook is more comfortable round the team than with the associated paraphernalia that comes with the captaincy but in Bangladesh he was coolly impervious. Bell has looked quite the part for Warwickshire – and before that for England Under-19s, and may have the potential for audacity. But both will be around the right age.

Succeeding Strauss

To follow the man who won the Ashes twice, and it may be three times, is a hard act. Cook, having been groomed for the role, would presumably be disappointed to lose it and that might be a significant factor.

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