Ian Bell: My highs and lows for England in the Ashes

View From the Middle, by Ian Bell of ESPN: I’ve felt in decent form but keep getting myself out

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The Independent Online

2005: England won 2-1

Bell: 5 Tests, 171 runs at average of 17.1. Fifties: 2. Hundreds: 0.

This series was a huge reality check for me. I had played three Tests before that series and they had gone very well. But I had never faced any of this Australian attack before, not in first-class cricket, and Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath were outstanding.

It was a shock. Both of them were probably past their peak by then, but it was a different level from anything I’d faced before. Australia were No 1 in the world and this side remains, alongside South Africa last year, the best team I have faced in my international career.

In retrospect, aged 22 or 23, I’m not sure I was ready for that level of cricket. I didn’t score the runs a top-order batter should and it left me with doubts over my ability to play at that level. The reality was I had scored runs in county cricket, scored runs in my first three Tests but came up against an attack that could expose any little weakness. The experience of facing them probably prepared me well for later in my career and I did, at least, score two half-centuries at Old Trafford, that reassured me about my Test ability.

But, though I would have liked to have scored more, I look back on that series very fondly. Just to be part of something that captured the public imagination to that extent was a once in a lifetime experience and the Test at Edgbaston was probably the best I have played in.

2006-07: Australia won 5-0
Bell: 5 Tests, 331 runs at average of 33.1. Fifties: 4. Hundreds: 0.

I felt well-established by the time my first Ashes tour started. I had five Test centuries behind me and I had been the top-scorer against a strong bowling attack in the series in Pakistan a year earlier.

I played pretty well in that Ashes series, making four half-centuries. But the tour was a huge disappointment. We lost our leader, Michael Vaughan, before we even started, and then Marcus Trescothick was forced out as well.

We were thumped in the warm-up games and our form wasn’t what it had been in 2005. We still felt confident and played some good cricket, but the collapse on the final day in Adelaide was a real blow and we never recovered. Personally, though, I felt I had shown that I had improved since 2005 and that I could score runs against bowlers of that quality.

2009: England won 2-1
Bell: 3 Tests, 140 runs at average of 28. Fifties: 2. Hundreds: 0.

I had been dropped ahead of that series. We were bowled out for 51 in Jamaica and I was left out as a  result. It hurt massively. But it probably proved the turning point of my career. Andy Flower wanted me to go away, get as fit as I could, work on a few things and come back better and stronger. I always felt he rated me.

Maybe I had been overthinking my game, but I came back with a less cluttered mind, scored heavily in county cricket, then scored 50 in my first innings back at Edgbaston and played what I thought, at the time, was my best innings against Australia in the final Test at The Oval. I came in at No 3 and made 72 in the first  innings as we built a platform that won the game.

My figures since I was recalled for that series – I’ve played 42 Tests and averaged 52.16 with nine centuries – are very good and compare favourably with my record before: 46 Tests, an average of 40.59 and eight centuries.

I don’t think I was ever complacent. But being dropped was a reminder that I was in danger of losing everything I had cherished. It also gave me an opportunity to work on the mental and physical side of my game.

2010-11: England won 3-1.
Bell: 5 Tests, 329 runs at average of 65.8. Fifties: 3. Hundreds: 1.

When I look back on my career, that tour will seem very special. Everything went well: our preparation was perfect and I scored my first Ashes century at Sydney. We went into the warm-up games seeking to win; not just looking for practice.

We scored a lot of runs at the top of the order, but I felt I was in as good form in that series and into the series against India as I have ever felt in international cricket.

Prediction for 2013

I think the players of both sides would agree that this is still the biggest Test series we play in. Winning in India was huge, but the Ashes is still special. It would be foolish for anyone to write off any Australian team. They have a good bowling attack and, with the Dukes ball, should be able to swing it all day. I expect it to be a tough series. I have felt in decent form for a while, but I seem to be going through a period of getting myself out. It’s been frustrating.

To read Ian Bell’s columns in full thoughout the Ashes series, visit the leading cricket website espncricinfo.com