Ian Bell: Diary of an Ashes Tourist

One by one, we speak. No punches pulled
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The Independent Online

SUNDAY

Comeback day. We knew we had to put on a show of some kind before leaving Brisbane. Regardless of the result, we had to show some fight. Today we did that. Pietersen and Collingwood took the game to Australia for a full session. This was important.

Collingwood was out for 96 for the second time in his Test career. He has a way of playing in the nineties which is to get to three figures as quickly as possible. I follow my first-innings 50 with a duck. Trouble reading Warne early on. Decision might have gone a different way on another day.

MONDAY

Lose the match in an hour. Disappointing after the staunch fightback. KP out in the first over and we tumble to defeat.

Out for a quiet dinner tonight. Get stopped by the ex-Essex seamer Mark Ilott, who's out here with a tour group. He congratulates me on my knock, says how vital it was to fight back in the second innings. He thinks I'm Paul Collingwood.

Ten yards further on he realises. "Belly, Belly, sorry," he shouts. Clearly I'm making an impression.

TUESDAY

Quiet day. Travel down to Adelaide. Hardly think of cricket. I think that's important sometimes. Just to get away completely from the game. I used to be accused of being too intense: cricket, cricket, cricket. But that's not good all the time.

WEDNESDAY

The most intensive practice session of the tour. The bowlers bowled fast and with real purpose and venom, with new balls. The batsmen felt it was like being in the middle in a Test match. It had to be like that.

This is followed in the evening by a team meeting where we pull no punches. It is instigated by Fred, and the entire squad are there. But only the players speak. Fred chairs it with Steve Bull, the team psychologist, alongside, who doesn't say much but acts as a kind of prompt. Every player speaks and is honest about the way we played at Brisbane and the need to get better quickly.

I talk about hunger and the necessity to go on from one match to the next being hungry. Not being happy with what you have achieved but getting better and better. Wanting more.

One by one, all the players talk about the faults of Brisbane, where we went wrong. Steve Harmison says he will work and work to make up for what happened there. Nobody attaches blame, we just admit what we did and what we have to do.

After that, a question-and-answer session at a Vodafone Australia dinner with Nasser Hussain, Ashley Giles and Geraint Jones comes as light relief. Asked the best sledge we've ever heard, we seek permission to tell it in front of an audience containing many females. We delegate Ashley to say it and sadly conclude that it cannot be repeated here.

THURSDAY

A lighter practice, but I feel the benefit of the day before. I think everyone does. Sense of anticipation grows. If anything it's as great as last week before the First Test. We want to prove ourselves.

Going up in the lift I am chatting to one of the thousands of England fans. He is very polite, extremely enthusiastic and tells me that he is a particular fan of mine since he lives in my part of the world. He comes from Kent. He thinks I'm Geraint. Must make a bigger impression.

FRIDAY

I get vibes that we're going to win the toss all morning. It's rubbish, of course, but we win it anyway. This gives the dressing room an early boost. It looks like the sort of strip you want to bat on.

But I'm in at 32 and shortly after we're 45 for 2. Hard work at hand. For a while I am at sea against Warne. He bowls well, with turn. I struggle to pick him quickly.

It's pretty vocal out there. Matthew Hayden from slip can be heard to the effect that Shane has me hook, line and sinker. I just bat on and it begins to come good. I leave what I can. That's been a big thing for me here, leaving the ball, and I think it will hold me in good stead.

Having done the hard work I get out for 60, caught in two minds. Damn. Colly fortunately goes on; 98 not out - I wonder how he slept.

SATURDAY

A great day. England's day. Collingwood reaches his hundred early on, which is exactly what he would have wanted. How could he have slept last night? We watch spellbound as record after record tumbles to him and Pietersen. A long way to go, but we can get back into this contest.

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