Ian Bell: Now's the time for us to walk the walk as road to Ashes begins

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The Independent Online

This is where the talking has to stop. Now is the time we must start winning, gaining momentum. That's why this New Zealand trip is so important.

We must begin converting hundreds, taking five-fors, not simply chat about going in the right direction but go in it. Good habits have to start from now.

This is where the foundations for the 2009 Ashes will be laid. I don't think England are a million miles away. In some quarters we have been pilloried, but we had one very bad Test in Sri Lanka and we lost one Test last summer. That does not make us a bad side.

One key thing is that we have lost significant figures – Marcus Trescothick, Simon Jones, maybe above all Andrew Flintoff – and it does take a bit of time to get over that. But now we have to move past that. It is simply de rigueur if this England are to become the real thing.

In a way, everything is geared up to the 2009 Ashes, knowing the side you want to play and how we can approach it. I know this will not go down well with some people, because winning other series is pretty important too, and if you don't win them, how are you going to win the Ashes? Yes, we have to look at each game, but we would be fools not to be looking ahead as well.

For the 2005 Ashes, Duncan Fletcher had nine of the side he wanted to play nailed down. Obviously form and injuries will come into play, but now is a very serious tour. It's where the road to 2009 begins.

One thing I can say from my experience is that I was playing just my fourth Test match when I was pitched in against Australia (with the two immediately preceding it against Bangladesh), and it's not an easy place to start. If you go in against Australia fresh it's a harsh place to learn.

It's important that there are places up for grabs now, but by next summer we want them covered. Of course there will be form and injuries to consider, but ideally those places will be filled by people who have had a bit of experience in New Zealand, against South Africa and in India.

You don't want to be learning on your feet in an Ashes series, believe me. The bowling attack had bowled a lot together leading up to the 2005 series. What was evident almost throughout the team was that people knew their roles.

Everything I have observed about the team applies to me. It's no good me coming away from Sri Lanka saying I averaged 40 and that was a good tour. You have to look around you andsee what other players around the world would have done,the high standards that theyset themselves.

I have proved that I can play at this level, but the important thing is not to show that I am one of the best players in England but to start moving in the direction of being one of the best players in the world. I have got to start converting. Like the team, I need momentum.

Five reasons why New Zealand tours aren't boring

Auckland 1955: New Zealand are bowled out for 26 in 27 overs, still the lowest completed Test innings. Bob Appleyard picks up 4 for 7.

Auckland 1975: Drama as debutant Kiwi Ewan Chatfield is felled by a short ball from Peter Lever, turns blue and starts convulsing. He requires emergency resuscitation but makes a full recovery.

Christchurch 1984: Tony Pigott is called up to play his only Test, having to cancel his wedding, and England lose the match (and the series) inside three days.

Auckland 1997: Number 11 Danny Morrison resists for three hours as New Zealand secure a remarkable draw. Morrison is dropped and never plays another Test.

Christchurch 2002: In an astonishing, if forlorn, assault Nathan Astle strikes 222 from 168 balls, easily the fastest double hundred in all Tests.

Stephen Brenkley