Ian Bell: Cruel summer climes mean cuts are more crucial than drives
View From the Middle: I had a poor winter with the bat but I have not lost confidence in my ability
It is strange to think that in 12 days' time we will have completed a third of our Test matches for the summer. We've got three Tests against West Indies, the first of which was due to begin at Lord's today, and then three against South Africa later in the summer.
With England ranked No1 in the world and South Africa No2, it's a shame that we have only three Tests against them. Four years ago, we played four Tests in a really tough series which South Africa managed to win. It would have been nice to have had at least four and maybe even five against them this year.
The first two matches against West Indies are back to back and then there will be only four Tests remaining for the whole summer. I have to say that it feels strange, especially given the recent weather. It's been cold, rainy and miserable and it doesn't really feel as though summer has even arrived yet.
Because Warwickshire didn't have a Championship game last week, I played for the England Lions in their match against West Indies. It was very useful as it gave me a chance to have a look at their bowlers. Ottis Gibson, our former bowling coach, is in charge of the Windies now and Kemar Roach will lead their attack. Roach isn't very tall but he pitches it up and has a good change of pace. I'm sure he's learned a lot from Gibbo.
It's more than likely that there will be some breaks for rain in this Test match, and learning to deal with those stoppages is just as much of a skill as playing an on-drive or a cut shot. You have to be able to switch on and off and recognise when it's time to switch on again.
If you're batting when you go off for rain, you can't just sit there keyed up and wasting energy. You have to be able to relax, maybe read the paper, have a chat and try to get away from it. Then, when the umpires give you the five-minute warning that play is about to resume, you have to be able to switch back on.
It's quite a tough skill to master and it's something that I certainly struggled to do when I was younger, meaning that I often got caught out by the breaks. It becomes easier as you get older but you still have to be very careful not to let it catch you out.
It's much the same playing in bowler-friendly conditions, which we nearly always have to deal with during the early part of the English summer. It's very easy to let yourself get into the mindset of blaming the wicket and making excuses, but when you score a hundred in bowler-friendly conditions, it's so much more satisfying.
The way to play when the ball is moving around is to let the bowler come to you, leave as well as you can and look to attack with cross-bat shots, such as cuts and pulls. If you start trying to drive through cover at this time of year, you're getting yourself into a dangerous position.
I know I had a poor winter with the bat, scoring only one half-century in five Tests, but I haven't lost confidence in my ability. Before the winter I'd had two years of really good, consistent performances and if I'm chosen for this Test it will be my 75th appearance. I have plenty of experience to draw on.
You get a new cap after you've played 25 Tests, then again after 50, and so on. If I play my 75th, I'll be able to put my "50" cap away. There will be a presentation on the outfield before the Test and it will be a proud moment, especially as all I wanted to do as a kid was play cricket for England.
You will have a few bad games along the way and I'm not a complete player yet. There are areas I want to improve and that is the exciting part of the job. I've just turned 30 and I hope I've got six or seven years' high-level cricket still in me. Physically I feel as good as I've ever been and I'm still desperate to get better.
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