Ian Bell: It is dangerous to have one eye on the Ashes

View From the Middle

Before this Test series began, a lot of people outside the dressing room expected England to win 3-0. But it doesn't go like that. Test cricket is hard and to win a Test match you have to play well, you can't start badly and you can't play badly at any period.

That is what we did in Dunedin. It simply confirms that if we're off our game we will be hurt. The Twenty20s were tight, the one-dayers were tight and this will be tight if we don't play to our absolute best.

There is no doubt at all that we knew this. I have been on this tour before, and five years ago we lost the first Test in Hamilton and we had to win in Wellington and Napier to win the series. I know for a fact there are some dangerous players in their side.

We have been playing some good Test cricket for the last few years. We got to No 1 in the world rankings and didn't quite do the things we had been doing. We're trying hard to make sure we do them again. There are loads of little things, you see the end result – big runs and taking 20 wickets – but there are those little individual things that add up to that.

In my time with England it seems we have rarely got off to a flyer in any series. It is something we're aware of but what to do is the difficult bit.

Generally, we know if we get scores on the board, we have got a bowling attack that can take 20 wickets. But it just shows all the time the importance of doing your basics right.

The philosophy of batting should be about keeping it simple. You don't want just to bat well in good conditions – though it has to be said that New Zealand is the closest we come to English conditions.

In international cricket you know you're going to have bad days but you can't have your top eight all having one. We probably didn't nail our batting in the warm-up game and you can't just turn up for Test matches and flick a switch and say, "I'm on". It's a mental build-up and I think it took that 160-odd all out for people to say, "Right, I've got to get on it".

In the second innings we put things right and came to Wellington in a much better frame of mind. You can't be that far behind in Test matches and expect to win. It's pretty poor for us to do that and we know that.

Many people have mentioned our build-up to the series and the fact that the Ashes later this year may be a distraction. There is a danger of having one eye on the Ashes. If you are not on it 100 per cent in international cricket you will be up against it.

I know it sounds boring but the importance of taking one game at a time cannot be overestimated. For us going out into the middle, if we're just thinking of the Ashes then we will be hurt. If you look too far ahead you miss those little percentages that are so important on a regular basis.

Has something been happening in Australian cricket, by the way?

It was disappointing for me in Dunedin as well as the team. I didn't mean to hit the ball in the air on that first day's play, I felt my feet were going nicely and to be caught at cover was frustrating.

But in terms of how I have gone in my last 40 Test matches, I have been a hell of a lot more disciplined than in my first 40. In terms of being a tough player I have improved unbelievably; in terms of consistency I think I have been a hell of a lot better.

My one-day stuff has got to where I wanted it to get to. Previously I never quite played to my potential. But in the last three or four series I feel I have started to show what I can do. My whole game is at a much better level than it was before. It was disappointing to get out like that but I feel in a pretty good place with my batting.

Alastair Cook's captaincy since he took over from Andrew Strauss has been outstanding. The transition went nicely. Strauss had a bit to do with that, and the fact that Cook was close to him anyway has just helped that to move on quite comfortably.

On and off the field the skipper has been outstanding. He has led from the front and he has talked excellently to us as a team. It is important that your captain is playing well but when and if he has a bad run, it is vital that we are there for him. He has done incredibly well.