England put faith in Bell – again

 

Edgbaston

In looking to the future yesterday, England's selectors turned to the past. They resurrected Ian Bell's one-day career for the third time by asking him to fill the role of opening batsman vacated by Kevin Pietersen.

It is a risky business, not quite supported by Bell's previous record over 108 matches, but it is based on the sound reasoning that it may be as well to pick the most gifted batsman in the country. Bell's last incarnation as a limited-overs batsman turned out to be a disaster when he was expected to play the part of finisher and pinch-hitter at No 6.

That bizarre idea foundered on his inability to slog, the concert pianist trying to bash out a medley on the old joanna down at the old Bull and Bush. It was embarrassing to watch at times.

Maybe he would have been better advised to invest the occasion with his more dignified style, but it seems that he will now have the chance up the order again. Bell has been there before but in 27 ODI innings as opener he flattered to deceive, making only five fifties with a pedestrian run rate of 4.40 an over.

Were it not for Pietersen's retirement, this gap would probably not have opened up and Bell's career as a limited-overs batsman would have remained unfulfilled. But watching him at work in the third Test match, which was finally abandoned yesterday without a ball being bowled on the fifth day, was to appreciate a sublime talent.

He and Pietersen were in control for an hour on Sunday and, while their approach was contrasting, neither was especially more dominant than the other. It is just possible this could work.

Andy Flower, England's coach, said: "We don't want him to do a similar job to Pietersen, we want him to be Ian Bell and play great one-day international cricket. He's only 30, but he's a very experienced cricketer and he's in great form, which you saw on Sunday.

"With the two new white balls in one-day internationals we want great quality batsmen up front for us. He is one of those. He's really good quality and we believe he can form a successful partnership with Alastair Cook. There are alternatives and we considered those very carefully, but we believe that the man who has the best chance of making it a success against two white balls is Ian Bell.

"I'm really excited to see him take on that challenge. We had to weigh up whether to get someone younger but we think he's the best option for us."

The plan, only partly formed as yet because of the time gap, is for Bell to open the batting in the World Cup in Australia in 2015. If he can stay in the team that long, playing perhaps another 60 or 70 matches, he will indeed have made the place his own. Flower conceded that they might have to rethink in sub-continental conditions but said that it was a long time away (actually it's next January in India).

Bell was denied the chance to go on and make his 17th Test hundred yesterday, from 76 overnight, when persistent rain, bad light and a waterlogged outfield saw a third day of the final Test called off. England won the rubber 2-0 and, although they were never in any serious danger of losing it, some of their cricket in the abbreviated contest in Birmingham was perilously sub-par.

It was not directly connected to the decision to omit their opening bowlers, Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Board, as part of a policy of rotation but there were repercussions elsewhere. Andrew Strauss, the captain, said: "We played enough good cricket in the first two matches to win them comfortably but it wasn't a perfect performance here."

Limited overs squads

One-day internationals

A Cook (capt), R Bopara (both Essex), J Anderson (Lancs), J Bairstow, T Bresnan (both Yorks), I Bell, J Trott (both Warwicks), S Broad, G Swann, S Patel (all Notts), J Dernbach (Surrey), S Finn, E Morgan (both M'sex), C Kieswetter (Somerset)

Twenty20

S Broad (capt), A Hales, S Patel, G Swann (all Notts). J Bairstow, T Bresnan (both Yorks) R Bopara (Essex), D Briggs (Hamps), J Buttler, C Kieswetter (both Som'set), J Dernbach (Surrey), S Finn, E Morgan (both M'sex)

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