Ian Bell: I must move on and not see myself as a youngster anymore

The management at county and national level have challenged me to push my career forward
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The Independent Online

The Test series starts on Thursday. I can hardly wait. It's a big period coming up, starting with New Zealand, continuing with South Africa, but every cricketer in England knows that all roads lead to the Ashes.

There is huge competition for places now, partly because of the strength of the players coming through, partly because of the way we have played. England have the people and the talent, of that I am convinced, and for each match and each series we have to find the right blend and balance.

England will be favourites to beat New Zealand, and there's no doubt you have to be winning at home. We will have learned from being in New Zealand, where people expected us to beat them comfortably.

I came away with a great deal of respect for them from that tour. They have a lot of players who would get into a lot of teams. They probably aren't as good as many other Test sides, but they have a lot of fighters in there who won't budge easily, and you have to work hard to beat them. So it's important that we start the summer off on a high and take that momentum into the rest of the summer and the Test series beyond that.

For those who stay in the team, there is a lot of cricketahead. I feel fresh now, and the key thing is the fact that you need to have a bit of a break away from the game. You want to come back hungry to play and practise, and to do this you need to freshen up and in a way stay away from cricket and from picking up a bat for a bit.

You're trying to find the right balance. As a batter you want to play enough cricket to keep yourself in good form and score runs. There's no substitute for getting runs in the middle. You can have as many nets as you want, but it's in the middle where it counts. You also want to make sure you are fresh as well. The international schedule for the next 18 months is jam-packed, so you also need to look at the bigger picture.

But I have thoroughly enjoyed my three Champ-ionship games. Warwickshire was where it all began for me and I still love playing for the Bears, it's what I wanted to do as a young player. They are a big part of my life, and with Ashley Giles and Allan Donald there now it's good fun.

They expect me to act as a senior player, something which Peter Moores and Andy Flower have said to me I must do with England, moving on and not seeing myself as a young player any more. In terms of age I am still a young player, but it's important to see myself now as a settled Test player,and start portraying that image which will moveme forward not only as a cricketer but personally.

Obviously, much of the talk about team selection concerned Andrew Flintoff until he unfortunately picked up another injury for Lancashire which was revealed yesterday. I can't pick the team, but having Fred in the side would be a big boost for everyone, in the dressing room and on the field. He's a character, with great spirit.

The selectors will be well aware that he can change the whole modus operandiof a side. Even when he had an ankle problem last summer, in the one-day team he was outstanding every game. He adds a new dimension to the attack.

Four bowlers or five? We shall see this morning. The selectors' job is to pick the team and work out the methods by which we can win Test series over the coming months.

Our job, if picked, is to carry out the plans.